WENATCHEE, Wash. — Washington apple marketers expect good availability for organic fruit this year, and a just-released survey shows just how big the sector has become.
Organic apple acreage in Washington is rated at 9% of total acreage, a just-released survey from the Washington Agricultural Statistics Service shows.
The state had 14,818 acres of certified organic apple varieties as of Jan. 1, roughly 9% of total acreage of 167,489 acres. Another 966 acres were in transition to become organic, the report said.
The leading variety for organic acreage in Washington was gala, with 3,087 acres certified and 265 acres in transition to become organic. Just over 9% of gala acreage was certified organic, the report said. Market prices for the 2010-11 season for organic gala, Washington extra rancy 88s, ranged from $28 to $30 per carton from mid-October to mid-June, the USDA reported.
The second-leading organic apple variety in Washington was fuji, with 2,788 acres certified and 276 acres in transition. That accounted for 10% of total fuji acreage, the report said. The USDA said size 88s fuji ranged from $28 to $32 per carton through mid-June.
Red delicious certified organic acreage was rated at 1,449 acres, but no transition acreage for red delicious was reported. Organic acreage accounted for only 3% of red delicious total acreage. USDA market news reports show red delicious size 88 pricing was in a range from $20 to $26 per carton from October through early July.
The organic apple crop in Washington state was estimated at close to 8 million cartons last year, but marketers sold between 6 million and 7 million cartons as organic fruit, said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima, Wash.
This year, industry leaders project that organic apple shipments may total about 6.7 million cartons, he said.
“The organic retailers tend to cluster around a few sizes and grades,” he said. That means organic fruit may be marketed about 60% to organic channels and the balance of the fruit to the conventional market.
Mathews said FirstFruits expects to market about 1.3 million cartons this year.
Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers Inc., said the firm expects to market close to just less than 3 million cartons of organic apples this year, close to 30% of the firm’s 11 million cartons of total fresh apple shipments.
“Conventional chains that have paid attention to organic have come out a winner,” Pepperl said. “Everybody has gotten back aggressively on organics, and I think it will be a killer season.”
Steve Castleman, vice president of domestic sales for Columbia Marketing International, Wenatchee, Wash., said the firm expects to sell about 1 million cartons of organic apples, more than 15% of the firm’s total apple volume.
“We’re excited about organics, and there is more growth potential for our customers,” he said.
Production of organic apples has increased to the point that organics are a year-round business for Domex Superfresh Growers, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for the Yakima, Wash.-based company. He said the firm’s organic volume is about 3.5% and will account for a projected 15% of the state’s organic volume.
Red Delicious, fujis and granny smith can be sold by the firm year-round in the organic market, and year-round organic gala availability is not far off, he said.
“There is a real demand for organic apples, and as the pipeline begins filling, the f.o.b. market should be pretty strong,” Queen said.
Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co., said the company expects about 9% more organic volume this year.
“We have continued to see rising demand for organic apples and because of that we need to transition over more fruit,” she said. The biggest organic gains have come in fujis, galas and honeycrisp, she said.