The number of certified organic farms in Washington state increased by 10 percent, and certified acreage increased by an estimated 18 percent between 2007 and 2008.

That compares with 15 percent growth in the number of organic farms and a 27 percent increase in organic acreage in 2007. Gross farmgate sales from organic production increased by 48 percent in 2007 to more than $213 million.

Those estimates are in the annual profile of the state's organic acreage and crops compiled by Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Wenatchee.

According to the report, which has been tracking organic growth since 2002, the amount of certified acreage in the state increased by183 percent between 2003 and 2008, according to a university news release.

"We always like to point out that the figures in the profile are a best estimate because of anomalies and inconsistencies in the available data," says sustainable agriculture specialist David Granatstein. "Our data sources and reporting improve every year, but we remain conservative with our analysis so this report represents a low-end estimate of the organically farmed land in the state."

Granatstein and research assistant Elizabeth Kirby compiled and analyzed data from four organizations that certify organic farmland within the state. The Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Food Program and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic have certified more than 98 percent of the state’s organic acreage.

Granatstein points out that the certifying organizations request information from growers in different forms and categories, which makes an accurate analysis difficult.

This year he and Kirby were able to compare their 2007 Profile with the findings of the 2007 Census of Agriculture. They found a 2 percent difference in organic acreage reported, and less than one half of one percent difference in total farmgate sales.

“This gives us more confidence that our data are telling the story pretty accurately,” Granatstein says.

The 2008 profile estimates a total of 96,139 acres of certified organic land statewide, up 18 percent from 81,472 acres in 2007. During 2008 a total of 689 organic crop and livestock farms and 53 transitional farms in the state were certified by the combined certifying organizations.

Seventy percent of the state's organic acreage is devoted to three crop categories: Tree fruit, vegetables, and forage crops for feeding livestock.

Certified organic tree fruit acreage grew the most, expanding by 55 percent in 2008 to a total of 16,983 acres. The certified acres of organic apples and cherries in the state expanded by more than 60 percent in 2008 at the same time that growth of organic food sales slowed to the lowest level in 20 years.

Washington continues to lead the nation in organic apple, pear and cherry acreage, primarily in irrigated areas of central Washington. Apples are the state's predominant organic tree fruit crop with apple orchards comprising 76 percent of the certified tree fruit acreage. Fuji and Gala are the leading varieties grown organically.

Certified organic vegetable acreage also remained constant in 2008 after significant growth rates of 41 percent in 2006 and 30 percent in 2007. Certified vegetable acreage comprises 21 percent of total organic acreage at slightly under 20,000 acres.

Industry sources have reported continued demand for more production but difficulty finding new organic acres in light of high prices for conventionally grown crops. Sweet corn, peas, potatoes, green beans and onions are the major organic vegetables grown.

The report found that Washington producers are entering organic production of soft fruits with more than 1,200 acres peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums in transition to organic in 2007 and 2008. Although peaches and nectarines currently represent less than two percent of organic tree fruit in the state, acreage for both crops should more than triple by the 2009 crop year.

The estimated farmgate sales of organic goods for 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, increased by 48 percent over the previous year to total gross sales of more than $213 million. Eighty percent of organic sales were from eastern Washington farms that comprise 69 percent of the state’s total organic acreage.

To download the full organic profile, click here.