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2013 OTA Industry Survey data show fresh organic produce continues to lead the category

The Organic Trade Association’s 2013 Organic Industry Survey, conducted and produced by Nutrition Business Journal, indicates that the U.S. organic product market continued to climb in 2012, putting more distance between the growth of today and the difficulties of the recession in 2009.

More than 200 companies responded to the survey, which was conducted from Jan. 25, 2013 through April 5, 2013. It includes revenues reported in narrow ranges, sales growth, revenue by product and sales channel breakdowns.

Blood OrangesOrganic blood oranges ripe and ready to enjoy. (Photo by Leslie Goldman and courtesy of the Organic Trade Association)Consumer sales of organic products — both food and non-food — accounted for $31.5 billion in sales in 2012, adding roughly $2.9 billion in new annual sales dollars while also achieving double-digit growth for the first time since 2008.

In the produce category, fresh fruit and vegetable sales continues to lead the way by a huge margin over canned and frozen products. Fresh produce sales in 2012 represented 90.8 percent of total organic produce sales, with frozen organic produce at four percent, canned at 3.45 percent and dried beans, fruits and vegetables at 2 percent.

The survey also indicated that private label and contract manufacturing continue to be important segments of the organic business. While the private label organic product offerings in the mass market channel continue to expand, many large players in this channel indicated that sales growth was down in 2012.

Private label growth is stronger in the natural retail channel, where shopping for organic is easier and consumers clearly understand the value proposition of an organic private label product.

The OTA has also been actively involved in certain fresh produce issues. A July 22 statement issued by Laura Batcha, OTA’s executive vice president, stated that organic practices offer hope for citrus greening, a disease that poses an unprecedented challenge to U.S. citrus growers.

“As the industry scrambles to curb the devastating effects of this disease, the organic sector is discovering some promising findings that could offer hope for the future of U.S.-grown citrus overall,” Batcha stated. “Early field research, including U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring of the Asian citrus psyllid population — the insect which spreads the disease — in Florida and Texas groves, indicates organic management techniques focusing on tree and soil health plus biological treatments provide equal or better disease management than the use of repeated pesticide applications allowed in conventionally managed citrus groves.”

Batcha offers Uncle Matt’s Organic in Clermont, FL, as an example of the significant progress one organic citrus producer has made in keeping the disease contained. Uncle Matt’s has found that the Asian citrus psyllid can be kept in check through a comprehensive sustainable, organic farm program integrating biological controls — including the release of predator wasps — organic fertilizers and sprays of botanical oils.

After 18 months of collecting data from grove monitoring, USDA reported that Uncle Matt’s organic grove ranked in the “low” percentile, and, in some cases, in a group with the lowest percentile for psyllid presence.

Research is also under way at the OTA to address critical organic apple and pear challenges in an effort to seek options to help growers.

Jessica Shade at The Organic Center in Washington, DC, announced in a press release in late July a project to prevent a potential catastrophe now looming over organic apple and pear production in the U.S. The goal is to provide the organic farming community with critically needed information on how to prevent fire blight, a bacterial tree disease, from decimating apple and pear orchards while maintaining rigorous organic standards. Exacerbating the situation is that U.S. organic farmers will no longer be allowed to use oxytetracycline, one of the key control agents to prevent this disease, as of October 2014.

“Fire blight doesn’t just destroy the fruit; it has the potential to kill the entire tree,” Shade stated in the release. “To make matters worse, it is highly contagious among trees and orchards, so the potential for damage is enormous. Fire blight could have huge ramifications on the future organic apple and pear market, which is now estimated to be over $300 million at retail. Washington, which leads in production, currently has over 15,000 acres dedicated to organic apple and pear orchards.”

To address the issue of non-antibiotic alternatives for fire blight control, The Organic Center is funding a project, in collaboration with Granatstein and Harold Ostenson, to research integrative antibiotic-free management strategies.The project will be published as a report written by farmers for farmers, reviewing methods for controlling fire blight holistically, and covering other pertinent issues.This will provide a critically needed bridge to cover the gap created with the 2014 expiration of oxytetracycline.