By popular demand, we will post on March 7:
“Part II: What is Driving the Growth in Organic Apple Production in WA State?”
On Saturday, March 10th, also in response to reader queries about Part I, we will post:
“Part III: How and Why U.S. Government Policies are Slowing Growth in Organic Demand”
Part I: A Tipping Point for Organic Apples in the Pacific Northwest?
The remarkable growth since 2016 in organic apple production in Washington State has received almost no attention in the media, food industry, and public health communities. I paste in below a recent update from two Washington State University faculty members who follow closely developments in organic production in Washington.
The data they report are striking.
Certified organic apple acreage in WA State up 37% in ONE YEAR, 2016 to 2017, with much more growth locked in as acreage in transition reaches the three-year milestone required to earn the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) seal.
There were about 26,600 certified organic apple acres in 2018, representing about 15% of the state’s total 179,100 acres in apple production. Harvest volume from organic apple acreage in 2018 is about 50% greater compared to 2016, because the new, organic orchards coming online are planted to the latest genetics and in high-density planting systems.
Such growth is extraordinary and reason to celebrate.
The average conventional apple shipped from WA State this year will contain around 5 pesticide residues. A small percentage of shipments will contain worrisome residues of organophosphate (OP) insecticides known to disrupt prenatal neurological development. Those working in and around conventionally managed orchards also face sometimes significant risks from near-daily pesticide exposures.
Virtually all conventional apple samples from WA State contain one, and a significant share contain two residues of neonicotinoid insecticides, about which surprisingly little is known relative to human reproductive, developmental, and chronic disease risk, as documented in an important paper published by a team led by Dr. Melissa Perry.
By contrast, organic apples from Washington pose essentially no pesticide dietary risk. The few pesticide residues found on a portion of the organic crop are extremely low-risk active ingredients derived from natural sources, like bacteria thriving in a long-abandoned dump site at a rum distillery (i.e., spinosad) or isolated from ubiquitous, soil bacteria (i.e., Bacillus thuriengenesis [Bt] bioinsecticides).
Enough organic apples are now produced in WA State to supply the entire federal School Lunch Program with apples, as well as all manufacturers of apple-based baby food. This is progress, and clearly good news, so why does it seem so few people are paying attention, and rejoicing?
I don’t have the answer.
But what I do know is that recent growth in organic acreage is 100% consumer and market driven, and that there is no end in sight to rising demand for organic apples, and other tree-fruit, both from consumers in the U.S. and abroad.
I also sense that the technology — and human expertise — now exists to produce organic apples at scale in the Pacific Northwest, and that as market demand grows, so too will organic acreage. I have heard muted speculation that within just a few years, and certainly within a decade, over one-half of the apples grown in WA State will be organic.
The differentials in production and marketing costs for organic vs. conventional apples grown in WA State have narrowed markedly, and will continue to do so as investments in research, infrastructure, and market promotion supporting the organic apple industry catch up to the level of sophistication, and economies of scale, common within conventional apple supply chains.
Imagine how quickly the Washington State apple industry could go essentially 100% organic if the State and federal government, and big players in the industry, actually embraced and worked to achieve such an outcome.
The transition to organic is clearly in the best interests of the State, given the deep bond and commitment of its citizens to clean water, healthy fish and wildlife populations, and the quality of life for all people working in agriculture and/or living in or near farming areas.
Done systematically, the transition to organic tree-fruit production in the Pacific Northwest will create more jobs per acre of fruit grown, and it will produce markedly higher profit margins per acre and per bin sold. And the health care dividend could match, or even exceed the economic benefits attained across the apple industry.
It will also thrust WA State into the forefront of a growing, highly competitive, sometimes chaotic, rush to reboot the future of food with an operating system grounded in taste, nutritional quality, and safety, rather than just producing more per acre of incrementally less healthy food.
The transition to organic production in the PNW is happening on its own, and some argue it is best for government to just get out of the way. I can live with this prescription for change, but there is a problem — the government is not neutral, and in fact is actively discouraging and undermining the transition to organic through a set of policies and actions designed to simultaneously deny, and/or bury, the downsides of conventional production systems, while also blurring the now-proven, substantial, qualitative attributes of organic food and farming (e.g., see multiple studies on Hygeia Analytics that quantify the nutritional superiority of organic food).
This needs to change. The next generation of kids growing up in and around farming areas in the PNW deserves the best shot possible at healthy development, and apples will surely remain, for all kids, a vital, affordable food that helps fuel healthy growth.
In just a few years, the second half of the industry-wide transition to organic apple production will begin. It could progress far faster than the first half, especially if growers, packers, and all those supporting the industry were both encouraged to, and supported in going after the rapidly growing, worldwide market for top-quality, organic fruit.
Excerpt from the March 2, 2018 “Tree Fruit Topics” circulated by the WA Tree Fruit Commission:
PRE-SEASON ESTIMATE OF ORGANIC APPLE ACRES-
By, David Granatstein and Elizabeth Kirby, WSU Wenatchee – Feb. 13, 2018
The area of certified organic apple production in Washington State grew by 37% in 2017, and is poised to grow further in 2018. In 2016, there were 16,191 acres of certified organic apples in the state, with another 4,244 acres intended for certification in 2017. Of the transition acres, only 60% were registered with a certifier. A survey of fruit companies was done in January 2017 to estimate the unregistered acres. The 2017 year ended with about 22,116 acres certified. This exceeded the estimate of 20,435 acres (which was based on the end number of 2016 plus the year 2 transition acres identified) by 1,681 acres, and illustrates the challenges of making accurate estimates.
WSDA data from 2017 indicate 2,378 acres in year 2 transition (T2), with about 1,100 acres specified as T2 with other certifiers. This suggests at least another 3,478 acres that are likely to be certified in 2018. There were also 565 acres not specified for the transition year. Using the 3,478 acre transition estimates from certifiers, there might be 25,594 acres certified in 2018. Using the T1 acres reported in the January 2017 survey (4,476 acres registered and unregistered), there might be 26, 592 acres certified in 2018.
WSDA shows another 1,200 acres in transition to become certified in 2019. This compares with 983 acres reported in the company survey of January 2017 for intended certification in 2019.
Thus, it looks like there may be 16-20% more certified organic apple acres in 2018 than in 2017, a smaller amount of growth than the 37% experienced in 2017. However, the 37% growth in area in 2017 translated to a 43% growth in harvested volume, or 4.7 million boxes more than 2016. If there is another 20% growth in volume in 2018, that would add 3.1 million boxes. Based on the previous 8 years, even years were “on” years for organic apple yield in the alternate bearing cycle. But this pattern was lost in 2017, and it is unclear whether 2018 will therefore be an “off” year which would moderate the increase in crop size. Over the past three alternate bearing cycles, the “off” year crop was from 2-16% smaller than the “on” year crop. So even if 2018 is an “off” year, this will not fully offset the added production from newly certified acres.