There was certainly a change in tone during this year’s U.S, Apple Association Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference, at least compared to last year’s event. During the 2012 conference, many apple growers, packers, and marketers in the Eastern U.S. were facing a major crop loss thanks to a series of late frost events, and wondering how they were going to sell a crop that wasn’t there. For many in the meeting room, it was almost time to look to the following year.
Fast forward to this year, and the mood was a lot different. The Eastern apple producing states are coming back with a vengeance, and barring any late-season weather events, this year’s crop looks to be of high quality across the board. Meanwhile, shifts in varieties, along with a booming export market, portend a future that looks bright.
On The Rebound
This year, Outlook conference attendees had the chance to be even bigger prognosticators than in the past. Thanks to federal budget sequestering, USDA announced earlier this year that it would not be making federal crop estimates. To make up for this, USApple held a series of meetings and conference calls in states across the country this summer, and on Aug. 1 it announced its own initial forecast. The mid-August Outlook conference gave industry insiders the chance to make a more updated estimate.
This year’s crop is forecast to be 243,311 million bushels, which would be a 13% increase from 2012 and up 9% from the five-year average.
USApple crop estimate as of Aug. 1: 246.5 million bushels, 12th largest crop. Up 14% from 2012. Michigan rebounding in a big way. #USApple
— Brian Sparks (@Brian_AFG) August 22, 2013
Below is a brief look at the highlights of this year’s crop, as presented by USApple’s Mark Seetin, directory of regulatory affairs, along with representatives from the three different regions of the U.S.
• According to Seetin, there were 328,000 bearing acres in 2012, versus 468,000 in 1995. However, overall production has stayed about the same, reflecting a continued shift toward more high-density plantings.
• In terms of varieties, Red and Golden Delicious account for 33% of total production, down from 57% in 1996. Gala is now the second-biggest variety, followed by Golden Delicious and Fuji. For the first time, Honeycrisp passed the 10 million bushel mark.
• Export volume in 2012 reached a new record of 46.7 million bushels, up 6% from 2011. Dollars generated from export sales also hit a new record of $1.16 billion, rising 17% from 2011 and topping the $1 billion mark for the first time.
• In the west, there has been quite a bit of excessive heat this year, which has led to sunburn in some areas, as well as spotty hail. The crop will be down a bit from last year, but will still be the second-large crop on record. according to Dan Kelly with Washington Growers Clearinghouse.
• “We no longer have normal crops, just averages,” said Mike Rothwell with BelleHarvest Sales in Belding, MI, who noted that the recent fluctuations in the Midwest crop size make marketing a challenge. The one benefit of last year’s small crop was that it gave the industry the chance to prepare for a much larger crop this year. which meant investments in infrastructure, packinglines, storage, and bins. On the whole, the Midwest apple crop is expected to be up 472% from last year (yes, that’s how hard Michigan was hit) and up 61% from the five-year average.
• In the east, the two states most affected by weather in 2012 — New York and North Carolina — should both have large but manageable crops this year, according to Phil Glaize of Fred L. Glaize in Virginia. In many areas, the fresh crop up, while the processing crop is down. The one lingering concern through the rest of the year will be whether the brown marmorated stink bug makes its presence known once again.
Around The World
Aside from the estimated U.S. apple crop, the Outlook conference gives other countries the chance to announce their crop forecasts as well.
Exports set new records for volume (46.7 million bushels) and value, topping $1 billion for first time. #USApple
— Brian Sparks (@Brian_AFG) August 22, 2013
• In Europe, where the 2012 apple crop was one of the smallest on record, this year’s crop is forecast at 10.8 million metric tons, up 7% from 2012 and the 5th largest crop in the last 10 years. Drought conditions in several areas could affect sizing, and while Golden Delicious remains the leading variety, new cultivar plantings continue to rise.
• China’s 2013 apple crop estimate calls for 37.5 million metric tons, a 2% drop from last year. Bearing acreage continues to rise, and Fuji accounts for 78% of all production.
• In Canada, the 2013 estimate is 22.6 million bushels, up 55% from 2012 and up 15% from the five-year average. McIntosh remains the top variety with a 28% market share, although this is the first time it has been less than 30% of the total crop.
• The Mexican 2013 apple crop forecast is 29 million boxes, which would be a new record and might mean a shortage of bins and storage capacity.
Apple Grower Of The Year Honored
Cordell Watt, American/Western Fruit Grower’s 2013 Apple Grower of the Year, was presented with his award during the U.S. Apple Association Outlook Conference.
“Cordell Watt has added acreage and planted some new varieties, while renovating the farm’s packinghouse,” said Brian Sparks, editor of American Fruit Grower, in presenting the award. “Most of his success, however, has come simply by identifying the most efficient production and sales strategies that are suitable for his farm.”
“DuPont is proud to congratulate Cordell Watt on his selection as 2013 Apple Grower of the Year,” noted DuPont Crop Protection, the sponsor of the Apple Grower of the Year award, in a statement. “Watt’s success at Timber Ridge Fruit Farm exemplifies the qualities this award honors: leadership, hard work, and dedication to producing high-quality fruit. We admire and respect the way he has sustained his family’s decades-old orchard for the next generation, while incorporating modern technologies for growing, packing, and marketing.”
“Progressive, passionate, and committed are thee words that come to mind when I think of Cordell Watt,” said Scott Swain of Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit in Winchester, VA, one of several individuals who nominated Watt for the award. “Cordell has a deep love and passion for the apple industry. With his dedication to the apple industry and financial success, he will thrive in the apple industry for a long time.”
Now in its 25th year, the Apple Grower of the Year award is designed to recognize growers who are skilled, progressive horticulturists and who demonstrate leadership and innovation in the apple industry.