2014 24.4 Washington’s Dynamic Organic Sector

Consumer demand for organic foods in the US continues to increase. Retail organic food sales increased 11.4% in 2013 to reach $32.3 billion in sales, and accounted for about 4% of all food sales in the country. Washington State plays an important role in supplying this growing market, with the second highest farmgate sales of organic foods after California.

The state of Washington is the leading supplier for organic apples, pears, cherries, blueberries, sweet corn, green peas, hops, and several other specialty crops. New growers and/or acres are needed to meet the expanding market demand. In order to help individuals and businesses evaluate opportunities in the organic sector, the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources has been developing statistical profiles for the state for the past ten years.

This information primarily comes from the WSDA Organic Food Program, which certifies some 95% of the farms in the state, but other certifiers provide data as well. Each winter, various reports are made available online at csanr.wsu.edu/pages/organic-statistics/. The WSDA Organic Food Program information provides much greater detail than statistics from the USDA and points out trends in the sector.

The number of certified farms and acres in the state peaked in 2009, at 753 farms and 108,336 harvested acres, and declined through 2013. However, the value (farmgate) of production, which dipped in 2009 due to the recession, has risen steadily since—reaching an estimated $355 million, with 83% of this coming from eastern Washington.

The three leading crop types for certified acreage are forages (34%), tree fruit (22%), and vegetables (19%). Specialty crops are particularly important, accounting for over 80% of the farmgate value, with tree fruits alone worth $161 million in 2011 plus the value added from packing and processing.

Annual data helps to identify trends. For example, certified vegetable acreage in the state peaked in 2007 at 20,043, dropped almost 40% by 2010 due to the recession, and had risen to 16,326 in 2013, signaling recovery of demand growth. Organic blueberry acreage expanded over 140% from 2009 to 2013, with more acres in transition. Gala and Fuji are the leading organic apple varieties by acreage, but Honeycrisp is the fastest growing and has doubled acreage since 2008.

Lack of timely and detailed data on the organic sector has hampered growers and businesses. The USDA is trying to provide more statistics on organic. Ironically, all the information we could ever want is embedded in the organic system plans that growers submit, but there is no uniform format and therefore, no ability to compile this wealth of information electronically into detailed annual reports. The work here in Washington is an attempt to fill this significant void.

David Granatstein and Elizabeth Kirby, WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, may be reached at the Tree Fruit Research & Extension in Wenatchee, WA, or [email protected] and [email protected].

Tags: Certification, organic industry, Research, Washington, WSDA, WSU