Aug 5, 2017
Fruit Crop Guesstimate reflects weather woes

The 2017 Fruit Crop Guesstimate, presented by Fruit Growers News and the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, offered a new educational experience for processors, growers, wholesalers and retailers.

This year’s Guesstimate, held online June 29, was provided through a webinar platform, covering expectations for tart cherry, sweet cherry, apple and blueberry crops.

Presenters for this year’s Guesstimate were Mollie Woods, executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB); Antonio Leduc, vice chair of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee (MBBAC); and Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs for the U.S. Apple Association.

Leduc, of Leduc Blueberries in Paw Paw, Michigan, began by discussing a common theme for the event – the impact early frost had in Michigan and elsewhere.

Blueberries

“The Southeast (U.S.) was hit with a huge frost March 16-17 this year,” Leduc said. “It took off a lot of the pressure on how things were going to develop this year. Volume has been very light. Florida had a good year, but Georgia really got hit. Their estimates were anywhere from three-quarters down to two-thirds down. North Carolina was the same and it’s looking like New Jersey is going to be a lot lighter than their annual guesstimate, as well.”

For the 2017 actual crop numbers, Florida come in at about 19 million pounds, “which was pretty close to where their estimate was,” Leduc said.

Georgia had an estimate of 28 million. “As of right now, from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, they’re currently at 22 million, and they’re about done. North Carolina is at 17 million, estimated 20 million. Last year, North Carolina was well over 40 million and Georgia well over 60 million.

“It’s put a big hole in the fresh market as far as blueberries go,” Leduc said. “And for Michigan’s season, it looks like demand is going to exceed supply.

“Michigan last year estimated 100 million pounds, and this year we estimated a 103-million-pound crop, which at this point is a little optimistic. I think it still can be done if we have good labor. It seems like labor was adequate in North Carolina and Georgia. I’m getting mixed reports on New Jersey, but if we have adequate labor in Michigan, we have the potential to reach that.”

California estimated 45 million pounds of blueberries. “As of today, they’ve actually only got 33 million, and they’re about done, after experiencing labor and heat issues. Oregon also is experiencing heat issues. Labor seems to be adequate in that state for now. They estimated 116 million. Washington, which has had a lot of water and disease pressure, they say they’re going to have a good crop at 130 million pounds, but they also seem to be picking lighter volume than anticipated as of right now.”

Leduc reviewed Michigan’s output for the past decade.

“In the past 10 years or so, we’ve been relatively stable with a few up and down years,” he said. “2015 was pretty light – we had a really hard winter. We rebounded again last year and, hopefully, we’ll rebound again this year. I think that trend is going to continue if not start to decline a little bit, being that the process pricing has not been that good lately.”

Source: Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee

Leduc said there’s a lot of fourth-and fifth-generation growers in Michigan that have 10 to 15 acres.

“If they don’t have a fresh outlet, it’s really hard to make it. I think we’re going to start to see a lot of these older production fields of process varieties start to go out of production as some of the newer farms start to replace some of their processed varieties to fresh varieties.”

In a review of blueberry industry trends, Leduc said that since 2001, Michigan “has gone from being pretty much the big dog that controlled the volume of what was consumed here in the United States,” to more of a niche market player.

“Our biggest volumes were June-August and there was hardly any other fruit,” he said. “If we had a bad crop, it reflected on the pricing. If we had a good crop it also was reflected, but we had the volume to supplement it.

“If you go from 2001 to 2016, it’s a very different story. The Southeast has put in a lot of acreage. Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey have always been there, and now the West Coast,” Leduc said. “Prices have always depended on how the Southeast produces, as well as the West Coast – how much they produce for the processed market. Most of the new production in Michigan is going from the August to September window.

“Imports have generally taken off so they exceed our domestic production on the fresh side, where our exports show minimal gains at best. This trend, if it continues, it is going to be very bad news for our industry, this year being the one exception, being that we had a huge disaster in the Southeast. Hopefully, we need to either raise our exports, or start promoting differently, or just start protecting our industry a little bit more.”

“If you take the last 15-year average increase shown by the USDA of what the 2021 U.S. growth projections are going to be, in 2021 our total imports would be 388 million. Our total domestic production would be 326 million (pounds). The total fresh blueberries in the U.S. market would be 714 million. This means every American would have to eat roughly 2.45 pints of blueberries per year.

“As a blueberry grower, that’s a little scary, but hopefully we can figure something out to reverse this trend a little bit,” Leduc said.

Leduc said Michigan is attempting to become a niche player in the market. “As far as August and September is concerned, Peru, Mexico and Canada are trying to chip away at that late deal, as well as the early deal in March and April where volumes seem to be light.

“Only two months have domestic production risen above imports, August and September, but only at a modest rate. Domestic production and sales have actually dropped in October and November due to imports. September imports will surpass domestic by 2018, leaving August as the only month domestic production will be increasing above imports. “All in all, the 2017 season looks very promising for fresh. For (processors), hopefully they will be able to open up their coolers, but we still have a lot of frozen product sitting in freezers at the moment.”

Tart cherries

Mollie Woods is executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB). The CIAB is the administrative body of the Federal Marketing Order for tart cherries. She worked as an agricultural economist at Michigan State University for 17 years before joining the CIAB in March 2017.

“Michigan is expecting a somewhat smaller crop, particularly when compared to last year,” Woods said. “This is due to freezing temperatures in early May, poor pollination conditions with the west central district hit hard. The southwest Michigan district is looking good.”

Nationally, Utah is predicting “a much smaller crop due to very cold, wet weather during pollination,” Woods said. “Washington is expecting a decent crop.”

Woods shared crop estimate numbers from a June 22 CIAB meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. CIAB meets annually to establish an estimate of the upcoming crop, and to set a restriction moving through harvest.

“Some districts were hit by frost and other conditions,” she said.

Michigan growers are expecting a smaller crop due to freezing temperatures in early May and poor pollination conditions. West Central Michigan was hit especially hard by low temperatures. The estimate for West Central Michigan is 26 million pounds.

“The potential for a much bigger crop is there, but they were hit pretty hard by frost,” Woods said.

Other areas in West Michigan seem to be doing a bit better than the central area. Northwest Michigan is down slightly from last year after also experiencing some frost, although the crop seems to be growing from early estimates, according to Woods. Southwest Michigan is looking good at an estimate of 28 million pounds.

The industry’s total U.S. tart cherry crop estimate is at 259 million pounds.

“This is pretty much an average crop in tart cherries if you look at it over time,” Woods said. “But compared to last year, it’s not average. We processed a total of 314 million pounds last year, which was more than we had at least in the last five years.”

New York’s 2017 estimate is down a little bit from the 10-million-pound estimate last year. Wisconsin cherries suffered from the same frost impact as Michigan. Utah didn’t have the same experience, but Utah cherries suffered cold and wet weather during pollination so that estimate is down to 26 million for this year.

“It’s pretty much an average crop in tart cherries in Michigan if you look over time, but compared to last year it’s not average,” Woods said. “We processed a total of 315 million pounds, which was as much as we’ve had at least in the past five years.

“2012 was a disaster year and for other crops in (Michigan). Since 2012, we’ve hovered right around that 250- to 275-pound range, except for last year. The USDA provided us with an estimate at our June 22 meeting. That estimate was 238 pounds. However, the cherry estimate they did was earlier in late May, early June. So, we hadn’t really had a good handle on the effects of that frost at the time.”

Sweet cherries

Early frost hit Michigan sweet cherries much harder than tart cherries, according to the Michigan Cherry Committee. For 2017, Michigan estimates production is 21 million pounds.

“In the state, sweet cherries were hit hard by early May frost – probably harder than tart, which survived better,” Woods said. “Some sweet cherry growers are expecting 50 percent of a crop. Last year, the industry harvested 42 million pounds. The four-year average is 43.6 million pounds.

“For 2017, Michigan estimated sweet cherry production is 21 million pounds. The USDA forecast is 37.5 million pounds, but it likely collected data before June drop, before we had a real sense of what was happening.

“The Washington and California sweet cherry crop is looking OK and is said to be very strong by the USDA, but certainly not here in Michigan,” Woods said.

The USDA sweet cherry crop forecast is 865.5 million pounds, with all production regions except Michigan forecasted to be up this year.

Apples

The apple industry is feeling optimistic about the size of this year’s crop and will be led by a potentially record-setting crop in Washington, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs at the USApple Association. He estimates the 2017 U.S. apple crop will come in at about 256 million bushels, which is 3 percent above the 5-year average and 6 percent greater than last year.

Seetin reported on the 2017 Premier Marketing Apple Forum held June 26-27 in Syracuse, New York, where Seetin coordinated the first estimate of the 2017 U.S. apple crop with industry experts on-site.

At 255.6 million 42-pound bushels, the 2017 crop estimate was roughly 2 percent more than the USDA’s August estimate of the 2016 crop. The Premier estimate reflects a 2017 crop from the East and Midwest regions that is 4.5 percent less than the 2016 crop. The Western region production is expected to be roughly 5 percent more than that of 2016.

Click to expand image.

As with cherries and blueberries, Michigan apples were damaged by frost.

“Growers felt that the frost that happened in the spring took maybe 30 to 40 percent of the apple production,” said Seetin. “That led to a consensus of the group that the estimate would be about 20 million bushels.”

“Out west, the big dog is Washington state,” Seetin said. “It typically produces about 65 percent of the apples in the entire United States. They’re focused on the fresh market. Processing is a secondary utilization that they can’t get through the fresh marketplace.”

Last year, Washington’s crop was estimated early in the 152- to 154-million-bushel range, Seetin said.

“By the time we got to the Outlook conference, that increased a little bit, and USDA boosted it up a little. Yesterday’s big surprise was the final figure for the 2016 crop came in at 174 million (bushels). That’s actually a new record for production in the state of Washington.”

A recording of the live Fruit Crop Guesstimate webinar presentation is available on the Fruit Growers News website, under the Resources/Webinars tab. Register here to view the recording: http://fruitgrowersnews.com/edwebinar.

— Gary Pullano, managing editor

Ana Olvera, FGN digital content editor, contributed to this report.





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