Growers convert mores acres to organic

11/03/2011 03:57:00 PM
Coral Beach

Growers’ ongoing conversion of acreage from conventional to organic means distributors and retailers can expect sales to continue increasing as supplies expand.

Huge increases from 2006 through 2010, such as 193% growth for organic strawberries, help drive conversion, said Steve Lutz, executive director of Chicago-based Perishables Group.

The strawberry numbers were the extreme example, Lutz said, but other organic commodities had stunning growth in the same period.

Data from The Perishables Group showed organic apple sales jumped 95%, tomatoes increased 62% and packaged salads went up 55%.

Organics account for only 3.4% to 5.4% of all fresh produce sales, according to Lutz. But there is enough room for growth that growers are increasingly converting to and adding organic acreage.

Better distribution has been one key in the trend, Lutz said.

CabalunaAt Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista, Calif., more organic ground is seen as a good thing, even though it means more competition for the all-organic company.

“Of course you have to contemplate your competition,” said Samantha Cabaluna, communications director for Earthbound Farm. “At the same time, we think the more land converted to organic, the better it is for the people eating that food and the planet.”

Momentum growing

The stars are aligning for growth potential for fresh produce in general and organics specifically, said Lorna Christie, executive vice president of the Produce Marketing Association.

For example, Washington has almost 1,000 apple acres in transition to organic, according to the Washington Agricultural Statistics Service. As of Jan. 1, there were 14,818 acres of certified organic apples in the state, representing about 9% of total apple acreage.

There’s no reason to think growth in organic production can’t continue, said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Recent organic conversion and expansion examples in the fresh produce include:

Deardorff Family Farms

Fourth-generation growers known for their commitment to sustainable practices, the owners of Deardorff Family Farms have about 25% of their production acreage in organics, said co-owner Scott Deardorff.

That’s significantly more than the Oxnard, Calif., operation had just two years ago.

Since 2009, Deardorff has added organic strawberries, collards, cabbage, chards and zucchini.

In July, the company added an organic celery grower and tested organic leaf lettuce for potential expansion.

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