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Green Growth: Organic makes regional gains

PBP Organic spotlight 2024

Sales of organic fruits and vegetables once varied widely from region to region across the United States, but those differences are no longer so dramatic, according to the USDA.

The agency notes that, while production and sales remain strong in the Pacific region—with about 32 percent of sales in 2021—the share of sales has continued to climb in other parts of the country.

In the Midwest organic sales ratcheted up from about 6 percent to 8 percent between 2012 and 2021, and in the Northeast, the share rose to almost 16 percent from about 11 percent in the same period.

Meanwhile, sales in the Delta region of the Southeast rose an astounding 3,582 percent—from $4 million to $143 million annually.

All of this has happened even while organics have retained their traditional “price premium,” growers note.

Kaci Komstadius, vice president of marketing with Sage Fruit Company, LLC, BB #:163180 Yakima, WA, cites cherries as a growth area, even though the product is “much more labor-intensive to grow” and sells at a higher retail price.

“The higher pricing isn’t as attractive to the end consumer, but as they continue to be more health-conscious, consumers are more likely to consider purchasing organic cherries,” she explains.

“Not only are we planting new acreage of organic orchards, but we’re actively transitioning several of our conventional orchards to meet demand.”

While the Northwest organic cherry crop is roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of the region’s total cherry production, it will continue to grow in the coming years, Komstadius predicts.

“We’re seeing an increase in demand for organic cherries now, even though they haven’t been nearly as strong as other commodities, such as apples or pears, in the past. We’re really beginning to see it take off in certain markets.”

For Wenatchee, WA-based grower-shipper Stemilt Growers, LLC {{BB #:113654}, peaches and nectarines are organic, but apples “are the primary organic crop,” says Brianna Shales, marketing director. “Approximately 30 percent of our entire apple crop is organic.

“Organic apples have significantly increased year over year, up about 30 percent in volume,” she points out. “This is part of strategic growth in organics in Washington State, which has a climate well-suited to organics.

“Stemilt has grown organic apple volumes and done so with modern varieties. We have a large share of high-flavor organic varieties, including SweeTango and Cosmic Crisp.

“Our product is currently grown in the United States; if there were a need to source additional organic product, we would look to the Southern Hemisphere,” Shales continues, noting Chile in particular.

“Chile’s growing season is opposite of ours, which would fill gaps between our current crop and our next crop,” she adds.

This is an excerpt from the Organic Spotlight story from the May/June 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine.