Organic apple production may slow in near future

09/09/2013 10:27:00 AM
Tom Karst

Stemilt Growers organic gala applesCourtesy Stemilt Growers, LLC., Stemilt Growers organic gala apples grow in their orchards. Gala is the No. 1 organic variety in Washington state, with fuji second, then red delicious, granny smith and fast-rising Honeycrisp, according to the Washington Apple Commission.YAKIMA, Wash. — Shipments of organic apples continue to rise in Washington, but production increases may slow in years ahead.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported domestic shipments of organic apples from Washington totaled about 6.6 million cartons, compared with 6.4 million cartons in 2011 and 5.55 million cartons in 2010.

Export shipments of Washington organic apples totaled 680,000 cartons in 2012, compared with 752,000 cartons in 2011 and 632,500 cartons in 2010.

In part because of concern about the effectiveness of approved organic controls for fireblight, enthusiasm for organic tree fruit may be waning among some growers, some speculate.

In a move that took away an important weapon against fireblight, the National Organic Standards Board excluded the antibiotic tetracycline in organic apple and pear orchards after Oct. 21, 2014.

Certified organic apple acreage in Washington was reported at 13,655 aces in 2012, off from 14,296 in 2011 and 15,735 in 2009. Transition acreage for apples — acreage moving from conventional to organic — was put at 1,064 acres in 2012, up from 725 acres in 2011 but down sharply from 4,256 transition acres in 2008.

In 2012, organic apple acreage in Washington accounted for 8% of all apple acreage in the state.

Market and demand

Washington accounts for close to 70% of total U.S. organic apple acreage, and most Washington organic fresh apples are shipped from September through June.

December was the leading month for Washington apple organic movement in 2012, accounting for 15% of calendar year shipments, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture shipment figures.

March accounted for 13% of 2012 organic apple shipments, followed by 12% for January, November and February. July and August were the low points for organic apple movement, with each month accounting for less than 1% of total annual shipments of organic apples from Washington.

While Washington state’s organic production of more than 8 million cartons in 2012-13 is significant, the most remarkable element is how varieties are tuned to consumer tastes, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee.

“The interesting thing to me about the organic deal is not necessarily the volume but how the volume is broken out,” he said.

The organic deal apparently turns faster to consumer taste than does conventional fruit, he said. Gala is the No. 1 organic variety, with fuji second, then red delicious, granny smith and fast-rising Honeycrisp with about 500,000 cartons, Fryhover said.

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