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Organic farming down in Washington despite growing demand for organic foods

As sales of organic foods continue to climb across the country, organic farmingin Washington has decreased. That surprised some researchers for a state that's one of the country’s top producers of organic produce.

While people in the agriculture industry expect certain crops to go through challenging cycles now and then, an annual study of the state’s organic farms shows "significant" declines in the past year, according to David Granatstein. He's sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University.  Granatstein co-authored a new study that found decreases in the number of organic producers, acreage and farm gate sales. 

“This was the first time that there was a significant decline across the board for organic agriculture in our state," he says. "There’ve been periods where there’s very modest declines or plateaus, but this is a little bigger, perhaps, than what we’ve seen in the past. ”

The biggest reductions were in vegetable farms and land for growing animal feed. He says part of the reason is because farmers have actually been overproducing for several years. They wanted to make sure they had enough produce to meet consumers’ rapidly growing hunger for organics.

Since the recession hit, shoppers haven’t been quite as eager to pay premium prices for food. So, demand isn’t growing quite as fast. Granatstein says he doesn’t see this as a bad sign for organic farmers - more like a plateau. With demand still growing, he says it’ll only be a matter of time until it catches up with supply.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.