WENATCHEE - Certified organic acreage in Washington state has increased by as much as 47 percent between 2004 and 2006, and as much as 70 percent since 2002, according to a study by Washington State University.
Growth estimates are included in a profile of the state's organic acreage, crops and livestock compiled by WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"We're careful 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. "We've been conservative with our analysis, so the report represents a low-end estimate of organically farmed land in the state."
Granatstein and research assistant Elizabeth Kirby compiled and analyzed data from six organizations that certify organic farmland within the state.
More than 98 percent of the land is certified by the state Department of Agriculture organic food program and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic.
Granatstein said the certifying organizations request information from growers in different forms and categories, which makes a highly accurate analysis difficult.
The 2006 estimate of certified organic land statewide is 64,325 acres, up from 46,181 acres in 2005. Two-thirds of the state's organic land is devoted to three crop categories: Forage crops for feeding livestock, vegetables and tree fruit.
Organic forage production showed the most growth, accounting for 30 percent of the state's total organic acreage and up from 20 percent in 2005, accoridng to the study. Certified hay and silage acreage increased by 96 percent to more than 6,700 acres and pasture acreage nearly tripled to more than 10,100 acres.
The report cites the rapid growth of the organic dairy sector and resulting demand for organic feed for fueling the increase.
Certified vegetable production increased by more than 1,000 acres, or 10 percent, in 2005 and by nearly 4,500 acres, or 41 percent, in 2006 for a total of 15,466 acres. In 2005 Washington ranked second only to California in organic vegetable acreage.
Apples are the state's predominant organic tree fruit crop, with apple orchards comprising 76 percent of the certified tree fruit acres. They're primarily in irrigated areas of central Washington.
Gala and Fuji are the most common varieties grown organically, according to the study.
A significant amount of orchard acreage is in transition to organic certification, thanks to resurging market demand for organic fruit from large grocery store chains. In-state organic tree fruit acreage is expected to increase by 54 percent by 2008.
Consumer demand for organic dairy products has made dairy one of the fastest growing segments of the organic marketplace, the study found.
In 2005 there were 14 organic dairies operating in Washington. That number increased to 23 in 2006, with an additional eight dairies in the process of moving to organic and another 21 with applications pending.
The state continues to see an increase in organically raised livestock, according to the profile. The report estimates there were more than 2,200 organic beef cattle raised in 2006, compared to just over 600 in 2005.
More than 131,000 organic laying hens were reported in 2006 compared to 97,200 the previous year.
Estimated farmgate sales of organic goods for 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, increased by 31 percent over the previous year to more than $101.5 million. Seventy-five percent of organic sales were from eastern Washington farms.
More details are available in the summary report online at http://csanr.wsu.edu/Organic/OrganicStats.htm.