The 2012 apple crop forecast, as determined at the U.S. Apple Association Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago on Aug. 16-17, is certainly a mixed bag. East of the Mississippi, a very early bloom period followed by frost, then hail and drought conditions, will contribute to a much lower crop than usual. Out West, however, despite July hailstorms, Washington is poised to have its largest crop in several years.
USApple’s annual meeting of growers, packers, processors, and marketers began as it always does, with a review of the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service apple crop forecast. As noted by USApple’s director of regulatory affairs Mark Seetin, factors ranging from spring frost to July hail, as well as the potential late-season emergence of brown marmorated stink bug in the Mid-Atlantic, could all affect this year’s final numbers.
Breaking Down The Numbers
On a national scale, USDA’s apple crop estimate, released on Aug. 10, calls for a crop of 192 million bushels, which would be down 14% from both 2011 and from the five-year average. This would also reflect the smallest crop since 1986. In comparison, USApple members were a bit more optimistic in their projections, calling for a crop of 202 million bushels, which would still be a 10% decline from 2011 and from the five-year average.
Here is an in-depth look at apple conditions across the country.
• East: The Mid-Atlantic region is perhaps the one bright spot east of the Mississippi this year, as growers managed to avoid many of the freeze problems that plagued surrounding areas. The freeze did, however, put a big dent in the New York apple crop, as well as farther south in North Carolina. Thanks to the early bloom, harvest is a couple weeks early in several areas. One concern is that processing varieties such as York are down, although the push for more high-density plantings of fresh apples continues.
• Midwest: No major apple-producing state has taken a hit as big as Michigan. As Mike Rothwell at Belleharvest Sales in Belding, MI, explained in presenting the Midwest crop forecast, “we now know what a crop failure really is.” The good news is that despite some frost marks and hail damage, fruit quality should be strong, depending on the standards for picking growers set during harvest. “Because of the small crop, growers will likely pick everything they can,” said Rothwell. “Every apple will have a value.”
• West: Several Western states are poised to have big crops this year, including Washington, where USApple’s forecast exceeded that of USDA. Dan Kelly of Washington Growers Clearing House, who presented the Western forecast during the USApple Conference, said that while hail damage is still being evaluated, overall crop quality and yield should be very high. USApple’s estimate calls for a crop of 145 million bushels, which would be the biggest ever for the state. Of course, the looming question is whether there will be enough of a labor supply to pick this year’s enormous crop, a concern echoed by USApple Chair Dale Foreman, of Foreman Fruit and Land Co. in Wenatchee, WA, during his State of the Industry Report.
• Nationally, bearing apple acreage has dropped from 468,000 acres in 1995 to 331,000 acres in 2011. However, yield per acre has increased significantly in the last 10 years, indicating a continuous shift to high-density plantings.
• In terms of varieties, Red and Golden Delicious account for 36% of national volume, but newer varieties such as Honeycrisp and Pink Lady are on the rise quickly.
• The biggest concern in the East is the expected low supply of processing apples. “Finding adequate processing supplies will be difficult, and costs will likely be higher,” said Seetin.
|State||2011 Apple Crop||2012 USDA Forecast
|2012 USApple Forecast
|2012 USApple vs. 5-Year Average|
|New York||29,048||14,048 (-52%)||14,000 (-52%)||-54%|
|Pennsylvania||10,905||11,452 (+5%)||11,000 (+1%)||-3%|
|Virginia||5,238||5,476 (+5%)||5,250 (n/c)||n/c|
|North Carolina||3,333||952 (-71%)||850 (-75%)||-71%|
|West Virginia||1,595||1,667 (+4%)||1,667 (+4%)||-7%|
|New Jersey||857||833 (-3%)||833 (-3%)||-15%|
|Maryland||952||964 (+1%)||964 (+1%)||+2%|
|Vermont||798||571 (-28%)||638 (-20%)||-30%|
|Maine||690||571 (-17%)||571 (-17%)||-30%|
|Massachusetts||917||738 (-19%)||738 (-19%)||-22%|
|New Hampshire||429||393 (-8%)||335 (-22%)||-50%|
|Connecticut||524||429 (-18%)||429 (-18%)||-16%|
|Rhode Island||60||57 (-4%)||57 (-4%)||-4%|
|Total East||55,345||38,152 (-31%)||37,333 (-33%)||-35%|
|Michigan||23,452||2,500 (-89%)||3,500 (-85%)||-82%|
|Ohio||1,586||943 (-41%)||957 (-40%)||-53%|
|Wisconsin||1,224||476 (-61%)||476 (-61%)||-58%|
|Indiana||476||131 (-73%)||131 (-73%)||-77%|
|Illinois||952||619 (-35%)||619 (-35%)||-32%|
|Missouri||357||810 (+127%)||810 (+127%)||+73%|
|Minnesota||560||321 (-43%)||321 (-43%)||-43%|
|Tennessee||202||179 (-12%)||179 (-12%)||+10%|
|Iowa||95||17 (-83%)||17 (-83%)||-83%|
|Total Midwest||28,905||5,995 (-79%)||7,009 (-76%)||-72%|
|Washington||128,810||135,714 (+5%)||145,000 (+13%)||+13%|
|California||6,667||6,667 (n/c)||7,260 (+9%)||n/c|
|Oregon||2,202||2,738 (+24%)||2,738 (+24%)||-4%|
|Idaho||1,429||1,667 (+17%)||1,667 (+17%)||+23%|
|Utah||452||381 (-16%)||381 (-16%)||n/c|
|Colorado||214||405 (+89%)||405 (+89%)||+21%|
|Arizona||262||321 (+23%)||321 (+23%)||-9%|
|Total West||140,036||147,893 (+6%)||157,772 (+13%)||+12%|
|Total U.S.||224,286||192,040 (-14%)||202,114 (-10%)||-10%|
Around The World
The USApple Outlook Conference also features crop estimates from the world’s leading apple producing regions. Here’s a quick look at what’s happening in the global market.
• Mexico will have an estimated crop of 190,000 metric tons, or 10 million boxes, which would be down from 14.5 million boxes in 2011. As a result of this low crop, Mexican apples are projected to account for 34% of domestic consumption, compared to the average rate of 66%. There are currently no trade tariffs in place for U.S. apple imports, but there is concern in Mexico about pests such as the light brown apple moth coming in from California. In addition, there is uncertainty over how the country’s new political landscape will affect agriculture.
• Canada experienced many of the same weather problems as the Eastern U.S. As a result, the Canadian apple crop will be down 32.6% to 14.1 million bushels in 2012, the smallest crop in more than 20 years. Ontario took the biggest hit, with a projected 87% crop reduction thanks to a late April cold spell. “We’ve never seen it this low, and it will make for a very challenging marketing year,” said Don Werden of the Norfolk Fruit Growers Association.
• The European apple crop will be down 9% from 2011 to 16.1 million metric tons, and the pear crop will be down 22%. However, Philippe Binard of the World Apple and Pear Association said the processing apple crop is up from last year. Binard also noted that some parts of Europe may start labeling food additives in the near future.
• In China, the world’s largest apple producer, the 2012 crop will hit 38.75 million metric tons, up from 36 million in 2011. Acreage continues to rise in most areas of the country, and Fuji accounts for 68% of total production. Michael Choi of Zhonglu America Corp. said more growers in China are storing apples on their own, and they are also working more directly with chain stores.
A Look Into The Future
Aside from the U.S. and international crop forecasts, the USApple Outlook Conference also features a look at retail and consumer trends shaping the industry. This year’s meeting included a panel discussion on the future of the U.S. apple industry, moderated by USApple president Nancy Foster. Here’s some notable comments that came out of the discussion.
• “Climate change may mean more weather concerns, but growers will take the necessary steps to protect their investment.” — Todd Fryhover, Washington Apple Commission
• “Club varieties, organic, and local are all tools to get a premium on sales. To establish a club takes investment. The reward might be more control, but it’s expensive, and there’s no guarantee the volume will be there.” — Mark Nicholson, Red Jacket Orchards, NY
• “If you are a young person entering the industry, the single most important thing for you is to understand your customer.” — Don Armock, Riveredge Produce Marketing, MI
• “We need to get the message out about the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign and how it can be used to promote higher consumption.” — Suzanne Wolter, Rainier Fruit Company, WA
• (On the subject of the Arctic apple, a genetically engineered non-browning variety from Canada) “There are lots of merits for this type of technology, but at the end of the day the deciding person is the consumer, and right now consumers have a general fear of genetically modified products.” — Nicholson
• “In Washington, there has been more variety development to match consumer preferences. The challenge is that the export market is still heavy in Red Delicious.” — Fryhover
Working For You
While a good portion of attendees at the U.S. Apple Association Outlook Conference represent packers and marketers, the organization continues to work on behalf of growers large and small. In 2012, it was involved in a number of important issues that affect apple growers every day, including the 2012 Farm Bill, funding for research of the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), support for emergency use labels for materials used to control BMSB, and recommendations for crop insurance improvements.
Moving forward, USApple’s goals for 2013 mirror much of its activities this past year:
• Advocacy: educating members of Congress on issues important to apple growers
• Farm Bill: maintaining funding for specialty crop programs
• Trade and Exports: maintaining Market Access Program funding
• Food Safety: highlighting apple interests as FDA develops its proposed produce safety rules
• Research: participation in several Specialty Crop Research Initiative projects
• Genetically engineered apples: oppose federal approval of genetically engineered non- browning apples
• Young Leaders: expand support and funding for the Young Apple Leader program.
However, the number-one issue facing the apple industry, according to USApple Chair Dale Foreman, is labor. “Last summer we left thousands of bins of fruit unpicked on the trees because we didn’t have the people to pick them,” said Foreman. “We need an ag labor bill passed next year. There’s a big wave of consumers looking for options for a healthy diet, and our biggest risk is not picking the fruit to help them.” The issue has even made for strange bedfellows, as some industry members have found themselves in support of candidates who may be on the opposite side of the aisle, but are seeking out comprehensive labor reform.