(Dec. 19, 11:48 a.m.) California Certified Organic Farmers says it continues to see strong growth in the organic industry.

Total acreage certified by the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based organization grew by more than 14% in 2008.

“While other industries are enduring bankruptcies and layoffs, organic continues to grow at levels other sectors would envy,” said Peggy Miars, CCOF’s executive director.

Vegetables showed significant growth, adding 29,365 acres, or 43%. Standouts were sweet potatoes showing a 93% increase while garlic is up 52% and peas are up 48%.

One of the largest sectors of organic vegetables — carrots — grew by 12,057 acres, a 104% increase.

Total fruit acreage was up 4,749. Nectarines and berries had significant increases, up 43% and 25% respectively, according to CCOF.

Fruits and vegetables accounted for about 190,000 of the nearly 600,000 acres CCOF certifies.

“Produce is the largest sector of the organic industry. It’s the sector that’s the easiest for consumers to understand, and I think we’ll continue to see excellent growth in the market for organic fruits and vegetables,” Miars said.

Many small-to-medium size operations also are adding capacity for storage, packing and handling.

CCOF said more than 30% of its members handle some type of produce in some way. Its grower/handler category of certification grew by 33.8% in 2008.

The organization overall grew 11% in 2008, and now has more than 2,000 total certified operations.

Miars said she expects the organic industry to continue to grow, but maybe not at the current pace it is keeping.

“While organic has been growing 15-25% for the last 15 years, we predict that growth will continue, but at a slower pace — probably around 5% to 15% annually for the next couple of years,” she said.

Miars said she doesn’t expect the slowdown to last for long.

“Once the economy is back on track, I believe we’ll see annual double-digit growth for organic again,” she said.