CHELAN, Wash. — Cherry marketers say organic cherry volume is not growing as fast as organic apples in the Northwest.

While some economists estimate organic apples may equal close to 8% of the Washington crop, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show organic cherry shipments in 2010 accounted for less than 2% of the total volume. The USDA said organic cherry shipments totaled 260,000 20-pound boxes in 2010.

Part of the issue is related to returns, shippers said.

”Getting a premium on (organic cherries) is tougher than on apples,” said Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan.

Chris Falk, vice president of Washington Fruit & Produce, Yakima, said his firm doesn’t handle organic cherries.

“Some chains just have too many delivery problems on organic cherries,” he said.

On the other hand, other shippers were positive about the organic deal.

“(Organic cherries) have been a good business for us,” said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima.

Mathews said the company will offer about 100,000 boxes of organic cherries this year out of their total offerings of 600,000 boxes.

Some shippers said they believe the organic deal deserves more retail support.

“We would like to see more sub-feature ads on organic cherries,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers.

Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Yakima-based Rainier Fruit Co. said the company packs both dark sweet cherries and rainier organic fruit.

Wolter said organic cherries tend to be more price elastic, and sales of organic cherries vary between retailers.

Wolter said Rainier is packing private-label organic cherries for mainstream retailers who are pursuing a stronger organic niche.