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.
The average price for Washington organic apples in the period from August 2012 through June 2013 was $32.83 per carton, according to the USDA’s Market News Service. That compares with $31.88 per carton for Washington organic apples marketed in the 2011-12 season, according to the USDA.
Shippers said the category is still growing.
Organic apples account for more than 10% of total apple volume for several large marketers; 11% of Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee’s 11 million carton apple crop is organic, said Brianna Shales, communications manager for the company.
Growth in organic apple volume for Columbia Marketing International is more than 10% per year, said Mike Nicholson, salesman for the Wenatchee-based company.
Other shippers echoed that sentiment.
“We are off a little bit on conventional, but organic volume overall will be up as we continue to transition fruit into the organic side of things,” said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit, Selah. While markets in the Midwest and the South have been traditionally flat on organic sales, Wolter said the 2012 season witnessed growth in those markets.
She said the company is finding growing demand for organic-oriented secondary display bins and that reflects the interest of retailers who are looking to add focus on organic to their stores.
While a growing part of the business, John Long, director of sales and operations in Union Gap, Wash., for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos., said the limited scope of organic demand can be challenging, he said. For example, retail buyers prefer premium organic apples size 72s to 100s.
“(Organic buyers) want the heart of the manifest. What do you do with the rest of it?“ he said.
Retailers want organic apples, and Robbin Erickson, sales manager for FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, observing that the supply and demand equilibrium for organic fruit seems to be mostly in balance, Erickson said that FirstFruits accounts for almost 20% of the state’s organic production for apples.