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Future for organic ag bright, in spite of market swings

PULLMAN, Wash. – Certified organic farmgate sales increased 16 percent to $244.6 million for 2010, the last year for which statistics were available, according to data gathered by the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Certified organic crop acreage and the number of certified organic farms in Washington state, however, decreased for the second consecutive year in 2011.

Organic bean field
Organic bean field at Full Circle Farm, Carnation, Wash. WSU photo by Denny Fleenor. Click on image to download high resolution version.

WSU Extension sustainable agriculture specialist David Granatstein and research associate Elizabeth Kirby co-authored the just-completed profile, “Certified Organic Acreage and Sales in Washington State.”

Eastern Washington accounted for 76 percent of certified organic farmgate sales in 2010.

Grant County repeated as the state’s leading producer with $64 million in farmgate sales, more than the next three counties combined. Grant County’s preeminence, according to Kirby, stems from the fact that it has more than 25 percent of the organic acreage in the state, including 36 percent of tree fruit acreage and 47 percent of vegetable acreage.

Counties significantly increasing year-over-year sales included Kittitas, Walla Walla, Skagit, Pierce and Island.

The long-term trend shows that large organic producers are using their production focus to gain an increased share of sales. Farms with sales of more than $1 million per year account for 56 percent of sales in Washington, compared to 51 percent in 2006. The smallest 30 percent of organic farms, in contrast, contribute about 1 percent of the economic output.

The profile shows certified organic acreage decreasing 12 percent to just over 90,100 acres in 2011. The number of certified organic farms dropped to 729 from 735, with two farms transitioning to organic.

Areas seeing decreasing acreage included forage, tree fruit, grains, pulses (beans, peas, lentils and other legumes) and oilseed crops. Vegetables, mixed horticulture and small fruits and nuts saw increases in acreage.

Vegetables reversed a downward slide from 2010, while blueberries continued an upward trend. Much of the increase in blueberry acreage, according to Granatstein, is due to the success of the crop under irrigation in central Washington.

Gala apple harvest
A truckload of organic Galas, the most popular organic apple, from a WSU research plot in Wenatchee, Wash. WSU photo by David Granatstein. Click on image to download high resolution version.

Although tree fruit acreage dropped 5 percent in 2011, it continues as one of Washington’s organic success stories, accounting for 20 percent of organic acreage in the state. Apples account for nearly 14,300 of the 19,590 acres of organic tree fruit and for 8.5 percent of Washington’s apple acreage.

Washington accounts for more than half of U.S. organic apple acreage; other regions, especially the East and Midwest, suffer from a much more challenging disease and pest complex.

“Central Washington has low humidity and is irrigated,” said Granatstein. “Growers can control the water and can thereby reduce the disease potential for many crops.”

Washington lost one organic dairy farm in 2011, bringing the total to 33. The number of Washington’s organic dairy cows, however, increased nearly 8 percent.

Due to the statutory three-year transition from conventional farmland to organic, Granatstein said growers cannot quickly respond to changes in market demand. But demand continues to grow. In 2010, organic food sales in the U.S. reached 4 percent of all food sales, up from 3.7 percent in 2009.

The full profile can be found here.

Media Contacts

David Granatstein, WSU/CSANR Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, 509-663-8181
Elizabeth Kirby, WSU Sustainable Agriculture Research Associate, 509-663-8181