Some growers of organic cherries marketed from the Northwest may be pulling back acreage slightly after a tough marketing year and shrinking premiums.

Organic cherry volume typically accounts for less than 5% of the total crop, according to B.J. Thurlby, president of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers.

Lynn Long, extension horticulturist with Oregon State University, The Dalles, said the largest organic cherry grower in Oregon took organic acreage out and is transitioning the acreage back to conventional.

The issue, Long said, is that organic cherries recently have delivered the necessary premium above conventional fruit.

“Some years growers of organic cherries don’t get any premium at all, and expenses are higher,” Long said.

Bob Mast, vice president of marketing for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Columbia Marketing International Corp.,  said the marketer has a small percentage of organic fruit.

“Last year the retail on conventional cherries was down so much it was tough to have the gap between organic and conventional fruit on the shelf,” he said.

Organic cherry shipments of Washington cherries in 2009 were rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 630,000 20-pound boxes out of a total crop that exceeded 20 million boxes.

This year, Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., said the state of Washington could feature about 700,000 boxes of organic cherries. Pepperl said Stemilt will have a substantial volume of organic cherries.

The f.o.b. prices for organic cherries commanded a premium over conventional cherries in 2009, but the overall market last season was not as strong as in previous years, said Cheryl Stewart, owner of Columbia Gorge Organic Fruit Co., Hood River, Ore.

Stewart said reduced prices for fresh fruit last season caused some smaller cherries to be diverted to the firm’s organic fruit processing facility. Better sizing may benefit returns this year.

San Francisco wholesale prices for 11-row size Washington cherries were reported at $25 per 15-pound carton on July 6 last year, about double the wholesale price for conventional cherries at the time, but still well below the $34 per carton recorded at the market for California organic cherries in early June.

Wholesale prices for Washington organic cherries in 15-pound cartons dropped as low as $12 in July 2009 at a time when wholesale prices of 11-row conventional fruit dropped as low as $8-10 at the San Francisco market.