Organic sector erodes
sees numbers drop as national sales grow
By STEVE BROWN
After more than a decade of robust growth, Washington state's organic agriculture sector saw declines in 2010, with fewer producers, less acreage and lower farmgate sales.
Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources recently issued a report detailing the status of the industry. David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist, and Elizabeth Kirby, research associate, compiled the data from producers across the state.
The number of certified producers dropped by 18 in 2010; there are now 735 organic farms in the state, with five in transition.
Acreage dropped by 6 percent to just under 102,000 acres. Acreage in forage and vegetable crops both dropped by 15 percent. For the third year in a row, 2010 saw declines in green beans, potatoes, onions and sweet corn production. Organic apple and cherry acreage declined slightly.
Dairy also saw reductions, with seven fewer certified organic dairies and 5,000 fewer dairy animals.
A few crops saw increases. Organic dry bean and pulse crop acreage grew to 3,400 acres, and blueberry production increased to 900 acres with 230 acres in transition.
Organic farmgate sales for 2009 declined primarily on farms with over $1 million in annual sales; smaller farms' sales remained stable. Total state organic farmgate sales totaled $210.7 million in 2009, down from $246.7 million in 2008.
Grant County led the state with organic sales of $52.9 million. On the west side, Skagit County recorded the highest sales at slightly more than $12 million.
Despite the declines in Washington state production, retail organic food sales nationwide continue to grow, accounting for 3.7 percent of all U.S. food sales in 2009.
"The growth trend is expected to continue, although at a slower pace than over the past decade," Granatstein said. "That means there continue to be opportunities for growth for those who produce and sell organic food products in Washington state."