How Will We Sell All These Apples? [Opinion]

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

Our Industry is a fascinating one. It’s made up of strong individual grower operations, ranging in size from mom and pop to enormous. You’re direct competitors for business, yet function together to deliver a high-quality and abundant supply of fruit to our nation, and to the world.

As with any industry, individual growers make decisions based on what’s best for profit and both the short and long term success of their operations. It just makes sense.

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But at the same time, the impact of an individual operation’s decisions and actions can ripple far beyond the borders of its orchards.

And nowhere is that more clear than in apples.

We hope this month’s cover story on the current and future state of production among U.S. apple growers  — and how and where we’re going to sell all of these apples — will open a dialogue. To be clear, our intent is not to pit East vs. West. While Washington’s crops have ballooned the most in recent years, the capability to expand production of high-quality fruit in increasing numbers of new varieties is now in the hands of just about any grower in the country.

At this time last year, our cover story featured Cornell University’s Terence Robinson and his work to encourage the broader acceptance of high-density tall spindle plantings. For an individual grower looking to increase high-quality production and gain a good return on investment for new plantings, the numbers look pretty attractive. But at least one reader expressed concern about the potential of adding more production to the marketplace:

“The spindle tree system is cost intensive; the product from these trees will be of the same quality, but a lot more production in a lot less space. Question: will there be a market for all the apples that can and may well be produced in greater yield numbers by this method? In order for an apple grower to make money, someone in some region of the country needs to suffer a loss. The consumer today will pay only so much for a bag of apples.”

Domestic apple consumption has edged up slightly in recent years, but a big leap in the near future seems unlikely. Logically, the industry is looking outside the U.S. at some very attractive international markets. But as the West Coast port shutdown and Russia’s closed borders showed just this year, counting on global markets to continually take more and more product each year is less than a sure thing.

Clearly marketing needs to be a significant part of the solution.

Creative programs like the new FNV promotional effort supported by the Produce Marketing Association (read more about that in Dave Eddy’s April Editorial) are a step in the right direction. Maybe a big step. But even if FNV does succeed, it will be a longer-term win for fruit growers.

In the short to mid term, though, there are probably going to be some very big crops to move, hopefully at the profit levels individual growers need to survive and thrive.

Grow more or grow less? Focus on building markets here or abroad? It’s unlikely we’ll all agree on the answers to these questions, but we should at least be having the discussion.

We want to hear your opinion in the comments here.

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Avatar for Matt Matt says:

You can guarantee the GMO apple launch is going to suppress Apple sales in the near future. Unless apples start coming with the Non-GMO project label, consumers who are willing to pay the MOST of quality apples will switch to organic or not buy them at all.

Avatar for Mischa Popoff Mischa Popoff says:

Surprise Matt. The GMO Arctic Apple could be grown under organic management as President Clinton envisioned in 1997!

Avatar for Mischa Popoff Mischa Popoff says:

Only in agriculture are we forced to deal with a vocal minority that believes efficiency is a bad thing. In response, we defend GMO crops on the basis that we’re going to feed a growing population. But even if human populations stop growing (and by some indications they have stopped in many parts of the world) shouldn’t we still strive to be as efficient as possible?

Avatar for Matt Matt says:

Mischa,

As this article points out, we DO NOT need GMOs to feed the world. In FACT we have an over abundant supply of food, especially apples. And NO the GMO apple would NOT qualify under the current rules as it uses artificial gene splicing.

No one is arguing that science should not be involved in agriculture. What IS being argued is which science and how. Marker assisted selection will provide most of the GMO advantages that artificial gene splicing currently does. It uses the natural sexual reproduction of plants to guide gene insertion in successive generations. In essence it works with nature and not against her.

Your argument that we need GMOs to feed a hungry world is flat out wrong. It has been a lie being spread for decades. If anything we know how to produce enough food, and then some, in the USA to feed the entire world. All of this done with conventional breeding.

GMOs are nothing more than a way for large technology companies to get a patent on life and then extract wealth from the grower in the form of technology fees.

I guess many in agriculture have forgotton how to give the consumer what they want. We are seeing more and more of the corporate mentality that big business can force consumers to accept what big business wants.

Look at the recent articles on this website alone. ALL of the apple producing giants want NOTHING to do with GMO apples. They have too many apples now and are worried about the tainting of image of ALL apples as potentially being GMO contaminated. The original company sold out as soon as the apple was approved. They KNEW consumers did not want it and growers did not want it.

Avatar for Mischa Popoff Mischa Popoff says:

The GMO Arctic Apple does not use gene splicing.

And yes, I agree with you that we don’t need GMOs to feed the world. That’s my point Mat. We need GMOs simply to be as efficient as we can possibly be, regardless of population levels. Please read my comment more closely next time.

Avatar for Mischa Popoff Mischa Popoff says:

The GMO Arctic Apple does not use gene splicing.

And yes, I agree with you that we don’t need GMOs to feed the world. That’s my point Matt. We need GMOs simply to be as efficient as we can possibly be.

Avatar for Jeff Jeff says:

We (in the USA) import nearly as much food as we export. The notion that the USA does, or has the ability, to feed the world is wrong. Whether you, or I, or anyone else thinks GMOs are a good idea, they are going to be part of our agricultural future.