Organic demand could exceed supply

11/06/2013 02:04:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Demand for organic produce continues to climb steadily, causing some growers to be concerned about whether supply will be sufficient in coming years.

In some cases, low supply could even inhibit the category’s growth.

“The biggest impediment to the category’s growth is production itself,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

“We’re seeing demand increase at a faster rate than production,” he said.

Pepperl said this trend is especially common with new apple varieties.

“People are going to have to convert more conventional orchards to organic to catch up, but supply and demand will be out of check in the meantime,” he said.

That situation could raise organic apple prices for the new trendy varieties.

Organic apple supplies also could see an even more drastic shift in supply and demand depending on what happens with the use of oxytetracycline for controlling fire blight in orchards.

“That issue will have a little bit of an effect on supply if there is no alternative by then,” said Paul Newman, organic salesman for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, Wash.

Other growers are also a bit concerned about the organic supply.

The kale category has seen a tremendous increase in popularity with new uses such as chips and juices.

Earl Herrick, owner of Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco, said that category growth has pressured some growers to reorganize their production acreage.

“We work with growers to expand or allocate more acreage to take care of those needs,” Herrick said.

In addition, other growers are starting to work with kale.

“More growers are committing acreage to kale,” he said.

In some cases, “hot” organic items, such as kale or chard, are dictated by what growers can supply.

“I think those trends are dependent on developing items that can be farmed organically, effectively. The items that aren’t developing as quickly in the market are the ones that are more difficult to grow,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer of Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.

Diane Dempster, organic specialist for Seattle-based wholesaler Charlie’s Produce, said she has seen some supply shortages as a result of growing demand.

“Sometimes those shortages are weather-related, but there have been times with excessive demand on certain products that there hasn’t been enough to go around,” Dempster said.

She said Charlie’s Produce is working with more local growers to help combat this issue.

“New acreage is coming into organic that wasn’t organic before, and we are working with more local growers, but it will be a conversation to have as less land in general is dedicated to agriculture in California and other areas,” Dempster said.

Year-round supply

Lakeside Organic Gardens, Watsonville, Calif., has developed land to use in different areas of California to help develop steady supplies in winter months.

“Lakeside Organic Gardens grows on approximately 1,200 certified organic acres in the Pajaro Valley,” spokeswoman Lindsey Roberts said. “And in order to keep a steady supply for our customers through the winter, we grow on approximately 600 certified organic acres in the Imperial Valley,”

Naturipe Farms LLC also has a diverse growing area, but sometimes weather can still affect supplies.

Jim Roberts, vice president of sales with the Naples, Fla.-based berry grower-shipper, said the recent freeze in Chile has caused a stir about organic blueberry supplies.

However, Roberts said the company is pleased that areas in the middle and southern regions were less affected.

“There was less of an impact in those regions. There was a loss of some fruit in the north, but there’s less organic production there, so we’ll continue to see strong growth,” he said.



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