Outlook Is Positive For Several Specialty Crops In The Northwest
Northwest Farm Credit Services, a Northwest agricultural lending cooperative, has released its quarterly Market Snapshot publications that look at the state of major agricultural commodities in the Northwest.
Apples – Most apple producers are optimistic for new-crop quality and pricing. After last year’s 114.6 million box crop, the new apple crop is estimated to be Washington’s second or third largest in history, at 120 million to 130 million boxes.
Strong production meets favorable fruit coloring, sizing, and overall quality, supported by a near-optimal growing season. Exceptions include instances of bitter pit in storage for some varieties. Access to harvest labor remains adequate and early 2016-2017 pricing is strong and stable.
Cherries – The Northwest’s 2016 sweet cherry season closed successfully, with performance varied across regions. Warm spring weather caused “flash bloom” in some orchards, reducing pollination from 10 days to as few as two days, which reduced some growers’ yields. However, larger fruit sizes and quality somewhat offset lower yields. Prices followed seasonal trends, with strong early- and late-season returns and some variability mid-season.
Onions – Onion growers are guardedly optimistic entering fall. Good quality and large sizes are reported in Eastern Oregon and Southwestern Idaho. In the Columbia Basin of Washington and Oregon, stands vary, but yields are near historical averages.
Lower U.S. onion imports and growing season challenges in Japan support manageable supplies. Therefore, expectations are positive for profitable onion prices through year end.
Pears – An early Northwest pear harvest led to a strong market and positive industry outlook. The 2016-2017 crop is projected larger than last year’s crop, which was the smallest in five years.
However, this year’s crop size is estimated below the five-year average. Outstanding fruit quality offsets relatively lower pear volumes, supporting higher packouts. Together, manageable crop volumes, high quality, and strong current and projected crop prices fuel industry optimism.
Potatoes – Northwest potato production is mixed. In Idaho, favorable weather conditions support strong yields, up 5% to 10% from the prior year. Washington potato yields are down by the same percent, limited by high early-season temperatures.
Although fresh market potato prices were initially profitable, markets are now at or below producers’ costs of production. Lower fuel, fertilizer, and pesticide expenses help buffer potato growers’ margins.
Wine-Vineyard – Winegrape harvest is coming to a close and yields are strong. Demand is driven by consumers seeking high-quality, branded wines, which are typically in the $20-plus price range.
The direct-to-consumer market remains an opportunity for wineries looking to grow in the premium segment. Buyers of wineries wanting to shore up fruit supply or purchase a well-known brand are driving mergers and acquisitions in the industry.