Revised January, 2018.
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.
Fresh produce is the largest category of organic food sales and organic apples are one of the top three fresh fruits purchased by consumers of organic foods. (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 2016 USDA Certified Organic Summary, an estimated 583 farms in the United States produced 521.3 million pounds of certified organic apples on 15,037 in 2016 with a sales value of $327.4 million. Washington state continues to be the largest producer of organic apples, producing 444.9 million pounds, with an estimated crop valued of $295 million. The three varieties with the greatest volume of production for the organic market are, in order, Gala, Fuji, and Honeycrisp.
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.
National Organic Program. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
National Retail Report – Specialty Crops. Issued weekly by the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service.
Certified Organic Survey: 2016 Summary. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017.