Many in the organic produce industry are unsure how prices will end up at retail in late 2009 and early 2010, as a number of complex factors, including unpredictable imports and economic conditions, make pricing pictures increasingly sketchy.


CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., experienced a strong upturn in the California season but the import season was disappointing, said Matt Roberts, sales manager.


"The product moved, but it moved at a significantly reduced price in a lot of cases. That wasn't just because of the U.S. economy, but due to a lot more product being out there from other countries," Roberts said.


The company is still waiting to see how the Washington season turns out.


"So far, demand has been good," Roberts said.


Much will be determined if there's an overwhelming amount of product.


It's difficult to tell what citrus crop prices will be, said Scott Mabs, director of marketing for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.


Organic prices are unique and don't always follow conventional prices, he said.


"It's questionable right now. There's been some new players getting into it over the last couple of years," Mabs said. "There's been a lot of fears of what's going to happen to organic in this economic time period."


Growth may be leveling somewhat, but demand is still there.


"That's been encouraging even through this difficult time," Mabs said.


In the past, InterNatural Marketing Inc., Lake Worth, Fla., experienced about 20% annual growth. Over the last year, however, growth went down to about 10%, said Chris Bell, president.


"I think most everyone in the produce business would say that last year was tougher than this year," Bell said. "There is still more interest."


Strawberry prices are lower this year, said Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, Fla.


Some organic berries are being grown in Mexico and are competing directly against the company in its market window.


"That definitely affected the market prices this past season. Although we were able to get a premium over what Mexico was selling them for there, the prices were definitely lower," Wishnatzki said.


It's unsettling to Wishnatzki because costs in Florida are higher than California or Mexico because of the environment.


The economy is a bit tighter and demand for organics and high priced value-added products are affected adversely by the economy, said Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce LLC, West Grove, Penn.


"We are still doing well with sales, but I would say it's about 15% off what a normal year would look like," Provost said.