No Other Apple Comes Close
Washington State is known as one of the premier apple-growing areas in the world. The nutrient-rich soil, arid climate, plentiful water and advanced growing practices provide the right ingredients for producing top-quality fruit.
These same elements also make Washington the finest place to grow organic apples. The dry climate and ideal temperatures reduce the number of disease and pest problems that can impact fruit. This superior climate reduces the need for applications to control insects and pests. In addition, Washington’s quality standards for all apples are more stringent than grading standards used in any other growing region in the world.
All of Washington’s eight key varieties are available as organically grown.
Statistics from Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center indicate most of the Washington organic acreage planted is in Gala and Fuji apple varieties followed by Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Cripps Pink, Braeburn, Honeycrisp and other new varieties.
And Washington’s organic apple industry is not only growing, but it is holding true to the state’s unmatched history of dedication to cutting-edge production practices. More than 25 percent of the state’s apple packers hold Organic Handler Certificates from the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Organic Food Program.
What Does “Organic” Mean?
Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility through the use of biological pest control, rather than chemical. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation. Genetically modified organisms are not allowed under organic regulations.
Core Facts About Organic Washington Apples
- Washington apple growers currently produce over 11.5 million boxes of certified organic apples. That equates to 230,000 tons!
- Washington State cultivates 16,191 acres of certified organic orchards.
- The United States is the leading organic apple producer in the world, with Washington State growing more than 90% of U.S. certified organic apples.
- Organic Washington apples are available in every key variety – Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Cripps Pink, and Honeycrisp.
- Each organic Washington apple is picked by hand.
- If you choose to buy organic Washington apples, the use of the #9 as the first digit in the PLU code on the sticker signifies organic – as well as the WSDA/USDA organic symbol.
Growing and Packing Organic Washington Apples
Organic Washington apples are grown and packed only with materials and methods approved by the National Organic Program (NOP), which rely on natural materials and processes. Organic orchards receive nutrition and fertilizers consisting of compost, animal manure, fishmeal, plant residues and other natural nutrients. Natural pest control methods are derived from plant extracts, the fermentations of yeast, beneficial insects, mating disruption pheromones and systems that bait and trap pests. Weeds may be controlled by mulching, cover plantings and mechanical methods.
In addition, certified organic apples can be processed and packed only on equipment using belts, brushes and water specially cleaned and prepared to handle organic fruit. Organic apples may not commingle with conventionally grown apples in either the orchard or in the packing houses.
Becoming a Certified Organic Apple Orchard
The land on which the apples are grown must have been farmed organically for three years or fallowed for three years before certification is granted. This means that for at least three years prior to the first certified organic harvest, only practices and materials allowed under the national organic standard have been used. Prior to the third year, the apples from the orchard are considered “transitional fruit.” Transitional fruit cannot be sold as certified organically grown.
Monitoring Organic Apple Growing and Handling Practices
The National Organic Program requires producers and handlers to submit an Organic System Plan. The plan must document the practices and procedures used, the materials planned for use, the soil monitoring methods used to determine that soil and water quality are being maintained and improved, and the records that are maintained. And, for growers who produce or handle both organic and conventional apples, the procedures that are in place to prevent commingling. An annual update of the system plan must also be submitted each year.
Inspection of Organic Apple Orchards and Packing Facilities
It is mandatory that organic orchards and packing facilities be inspected every year. The Washington State Department of Agriculture conducts these inspections. During the certification process, random samples are collected to verify compliance with organic production standards. Growers must submit soil tests every three years.
Identifying Organically Grown Apples
Stickers on apples and signs in the supermarket will help direct shoppers to organically grown apples. Along with the national organic standards, the USDA developed strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The USDA Organic seal tells you that a product is at least 95 percent organic. However, apple growers may or may not use the full USDA Organic seal, the certified organic apples may simply have “certified organic” on the existing sticker.
About the National Organic Program
The standardization of organic certification nationwide started in 1990 when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The OFPA required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that those products meet consistent, uniform standards.
The USDA then created the National Organic Program (NOP). NOP standards offer a national definition for the term organic. They detail the methods, practices and substances that can be used in producing and handling organic crops, livestock, and processed products.
Beginning in 1988, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) had been certifying orchards under the state’s organic food laws. When the USDA created the national program, the WSDA was accredited to certify orchards, processors and handlers under the national program.