Good Fruit Grower

May 1

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Organic & Sustainable Ag Pest pressures challenge ORGANICS FUTURE T he favorable climate and relatively low pest and disease pressure in the arid West have been blessings for organic tree fruit growers. Those conditions explain why more than 95 percent of the nation's organic apple production comes from Washington, California, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon. But increasing pest challenges and the potential loss of disease-fighting antibiotics threaten the future of organic tree fruit production, even in the West. Consumer demand for organic fruits and vegetables is still solid. Organic food sales increased 9 percent in 2011, according to data compiled by David Granatstein, Washington State University's sustainable agriculture specialist. Fruit and vegetables accounted for almost 40 percent of all organic food sales and 12 percent of all national produce sales in 2010. Organic food sales make up 4 percent of all food sales in the nation. While growers continue to plant organic tree fruit acreage, the pace is much slower than the rapid expansion of the mid-2000s. Overall, national organic apple acreage was less in 2011 (19,900 acres) than the height of organic plantings in 2009 when more than 21,000 acres were organic, according to statistics from the Washington State Department by Melissa Hansen of Agriculture. Acreage numbers from WSDA pegged the state's organic apple acreage at a high of 15,735 acres in 2009. In the same year, there were approximately 1,960 acres of certified organic pears, 2,450 acres of organic cherries, and 1,660 acres of organic stone fruit (apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and prunes). For all organic tree fruit in Washington, the total was almost 21,800 acres. Demand is steady for organic tree fruit, but control of new pests is critical. Organic tree fruit acres in Washington Certified acres 2011 2012 2009 Apple 15,735 14,296 % Change 2009-2012 13,655 -13% Transition acres 2008 2011 2012 4,256 725 1,064 Pear 1,964 1,917 1,900 -3% 444 108 88 Cherry 2,437 1,826 1,792 -26% 797 12 14 Apricot 265 296 266 0% 479 — — Peach & 1,238 1,146 1,105 -11% 832 21 — 130 92 89 -32% 49 — — 30 17 44 164 — — 21,799 19,590 18,851 Nectarine Plum & Prune Mixed stone Total -14% 6,721 866 1,166 Tree fruit has a 20% share of all organic acreage in Washington State. SOURCE: David Granatstein and Washington State Department of Agriculture U.S. organic apple acres (Acres estimated) State 2000 2001 2003 2005 2007 2008 2009 2011 2012 Washington 4,228 6,540 7,003 6,721 8,018 12,936 15,735 14,296 13,655 California 4,423 4,853 4,045 3,402 3,900 3,393 3,450 3,334 Arizona 1,795 1,715 835 865 816 816 Colorado 431 635 235 202 209 164 Oregon 350 350 265 123 106 136 Other West West Total 109 281 677 171 83 147 139 n/a 14,770 12,554 11,396 13,196 17,584 >20,000 >18,932 419 567 650 708 612 655 713 83 52 5 392 212 193 215 New York & NE S & SE 28 15 1 8 47 33 >2 12,038 15,404 13,210 12,504 14,067 18,465 >21,000 >19,900 *2011 red values from USDA-NASS Other West States include Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. SOURCE: David Granatstein and Washington State Department of Agriculture 12 393 201 11,508 Midwest U.S. Total 800* May 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Then came the economic recession, taking the blush off the organic tree fruit market and impacting prices and profitability. By 2012, the state total for organic tree fruit had dropped about 3,000 acres to 18,850, representing a 14 percent decrease in organic tree fruit acreage. Cherries showed the biggest decrease in acreage (26 percent decrease), followed by apples with a 13 percent decrease. Last year, about 1,100 acres of tree fruit were in transition to be certified as organic, according to WSDA statistics. Uncertain future Organic production and plantings of apples, pears, and cherries in the state have stabilized, says Harold Austin of Zirkle Fruit Company in Selah, Washington. Austin is director of orchard administration and oversees product and compliance for Zirkle's 2,000-plus acres of certified organic apples, pears, cherries, and blueberries. "There's been a slight increase in organic acreage in the last year, but not significant," he said. But Austin is worried about the future of organic tree fruit production, particularly for pears, cherries, and blueberries. The National Organic Standards Board, which approves use of materials for organic production, will curtail use in 2014 of a key antibiotic used to control fireblight—oxytetracycline. Additionally, emerging pests, like spotted wing drosophila and the brown marmorated stinkbug, are putting pressure on organic producers. Austin, who is a member of the NOSB, said that organic pear growers will be hit especially hard by the unavailability of antibiotics for fireblight control. Although there are a few organically approved fireblight alternatives to antibiotics, he said they tend to be more effective on apples and less so on pears. One promising biological yeast that has shown control of fireblight is Blossom Protect. But research trials are ongoing as scientists learn how it works in commercial orchards and under different environmental conditions. Invasive pests The spotted wing drosophila, first found in California and Florida in 2008, has spread throughout the United States and is now established in all major stone-fruit-producing states, including Washington, Oregon, California, and Michigan. The fruit fly has an extensive host list that includes, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, berries, and grapes. "Everyone is very concerned about spotted wing drosophila because there are not many organic products that can effectively control it," Austin said. "We know populations of spotted wing drosophila are increasing. We can probably expect more pressure this summer because of the mild winter we just had. It's going to be a very difficult pest to control in organic blueberries and cherries." Organic cherry growers were able to overcome problems from the Western cherry fruit fly with GF-120, an attractant and bait spray that was approved for organic use and has become a standard control. However, the GF-120 bait does not control spotted wing drosophila. Spotted wing drosophila can produce a new generation every two weeks, which means that pest pressure increases as summer progresses. Based on Washington State trap catches from the past few years, it appears that cherries in late-growing districts will be at greater risk than earlier-maturing cherries. Later varieties of blueberries are also the most susceptible to damage from the tiny fruit fly. The pest has

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