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Organic Apple Production Blooms

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apple_close.jpgIt’s apple season and so here’s an organic apple report: Did you know that acreage devoted organic apple production nearly doubled between 1997 and 2008? That’s roughly 6% of the total land devoted to apple production in the United States, making apples one of the top organic produce items grown domestically.

The stats come from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which included an update on this lunchbox and fruit bowl staple in the most recent issue of Amber Waves, a USDA publication. It notes that overall, organic produce sales will likely top $10 billion this year.

Apples are certainly an appropriate topic for any organic discussion, since they helped kick off the modern-day organic boom. The evils of synthetic agriculture were exposed after the television news show 60 Minutes scared the buying public with its expose of the growth regulator alar back in 1989.

Using 2007 data, the ERS found that 82% of organic apples are used for fresh, out-of-hand consumption, compared to just 72% for conventional varieties. The rest is used in processed foods and beverages.

Not surprisingly, farmers who transitioned to organic production were enticed by the prospect of greater returns on investment. While production costs are higher, organic apples also command substantial price premiums, the article states.

“Grower prices for organic apples were more than double conventional prices for fresh apples and nearly double conventional prices for processing apples,” the author wrote.

Higher income was the No. 1 reason given by farmers when they were asked why they grew organic varieties. Some 45% of farmers got into the business to increase their farm income, compared to 23% who stated they did it to protect their family and their community; 19% who liked the environmentally friendly farming practices used; and the 13% who pursued organic farming for other reasons.

It’s interesting to note that Arizona led the nation in organic apple production back in 1997 (36%), followed by “Other states” (24%), California (21%) and Washington (19%). As of 2008, Washington had taken the lead in a big way — growing 73% of the U.S. organic apple crop — followed by California at 14%. By this time, Arizona’s share had shrunk to only 5%.

It’s pretty simple these days to find organic apples year-round, in any store produce department. There’s plenty of variety to choose from, too. But it’s also easy to remember that, not so long ago, an organic apple was difficult to find even at the height of autumn.

[Photo credit: Friends of Family Farmers]

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