Revised, February 2016
Overview of Certified Organic
Organic production is defined as an ecological production system that integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster resource cycling, ecological balance, and biodiversity. USDA organic standards prohibit many inputs and methods that are commonly used in agriculture. In 2002, the USDA implemented national organic standards and required that all farmers and processors with over $5,000 in annual sales of products labeled as organic must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier. Certifying agents review farm applications and qualified inspectors conduct annual on-site inspections. Farm records track all management practices and materials used in organic production and organic farms must have a written “organic farm plan” made available to the public upon request.
While U.S. acreage and production of apples has declined in recent years, consumer demand has spurred a fast-growing organic apple sector. Apples managed under certified organic farming systems now account for about 7 percent of total U.S. apple acreage. While conventional apple yields tend to be higher than organic yields, organic apples commanded a price premium at every level—farm-gate, wholesale and retail—of the supply chain. Despite the drop in total apple production over the last decade, the U.S. apple sector has seen fast-growing demand for new varieties of apples and for organically produced apples that garner price premiums. The three varieties with the greatest volume of production for the organic market are, in order, Gala, Fuji, and Golden Delicious. Red Delicious has dropped to fourth. Organic apples are one of the top three fresh fruits purchased by consumers of organic foods, and fresh produce is the largest category of organic food sales. (Nutrition Business Journal, 2010).
Ninety percent of the organic apples produced in 2014 were sold for fresh market. In general, U.S. apple producers sell their higher-quality apples for fresh- market consumption at higher prices and sell their lower-quality apples to processors at lower prices. Many apple producers, however, especially in Eastern and Midwestern States, target markets for applesauce, juice, cider, and other processed apple products, including pre-sliced apples.
According to the 2014 USDA Organic Survey, 562.7 million pounds of organic apples, an increase of more than 74.5 million pounds (13.2 percent) over 2008. The survey showed 868 farms reported commercial organic apple production on 16,245 acres in the United States with an estimated value of sales at $249.6 million. Washington state was the largest producer of organic apples in 2014, producing 428.7 million pounds, with an estimated crop valued of $210.2 million. Vermont the second largest organic apple producing state in 2014 with 72.97 million pounds.
The retail prices for fresh organic apples was, on average, 40 percent high than for conventional fresh apples.
2014 Summary Organic Survey. USDA Census of Agriculture.
Characteristics of Conventional and Organic Apple Production in the United States. 2011. USDA ERS FTS-347-01
National Organic Program. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
National Retail Report – Specialty Crops. Issued weekly by the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service.