Jul 9, 2009
Growers Look at Bumper Fruit Crops To Sell This Year

Across the board, there will be big fruit crops for growers and packers to sell this year. Lots of apples. Lots of sweet cherries. Many more tart cherries. More wine grapes. More juice grapes. More blueberries. If it’s fruit, it’s out there at bumper crop levels.

No one used the word “bumper” during the 54th annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate June 17 in Grand Rapids, Mich. But if bumper means bigger than usual but not necessarily a record, bumper is the word we’re looking for.

Some speakers suggested now might not be the best time for bumper crops, given the poor economy and the fact that several fruits are enduring weak prices and consumers are showing price resistance.

What follows is the situation, fruit by fruit, as it looked to industry members early in the season. Grapes were still blooming and apple thinning was still underway, but frosts were well past and the season for most fruits was shaping up. The whole purpose of the Guesstimate, sponsored by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, is to make an early assessment so marketers can start selling.

Apples

Mark Doherty, with Peterson Farms in Shelby and a board member of the Michigan Apple Committee, delivered the number for the national apple crop, state by state. Crops will be bigger than the five-year average in several states, and overall the U.S. apple crop was guesstimated at 109 percent of the five-year average. The total crop was pegged at 247.5 million bushels.

The size of the crop in Washington, the largest producer by far, was put at 138 million bushels, up from the five-year average of 129.7 million.

New York will have another big crop, 29.5 million bushels.

Michigan, the third largest producer, had a dismal crop last year of 13.3 million bushels, but is expected to come close to 24 million bushels this year, the largest crop this century. This year’s crop will be 170 percent of last year’s.

California’s crop is down a bit from the five-year average, at about 8 million bushels. Pennsylvania at 10.3 million bushels is just slightly below average, as is Virginia with 5.5 million bushels. Ontario production was estimated at 11 million bushels by Adrian Huisman, with the Ontario Tender Fruit Board, who called it a “very good crop.”

Mike Rothwell, with the apple packer Belle Harvest Sales in Belding, Mich., said marketing the large Michigan crop will take “patience and cooperation” – and perhaps some work to find enough bins after 10 years of smaller crops – but “we will get this done.”

Growers are concerned about the steep slide in fresh-market apple prices since last fall, and about the inventory of 2008 apples still to be sold.

Blueberries

Frank Bragg, with MBG Marketing in Michigan, presented the blueberry expectations. The national crop, which has been setting new production records year by year, appears to be doing it again. With expected production of 434 million pounds, it would exceed the 2008 crop of 407.6 million pounds by 6.6 percent.

Bragg noted that inventories of frozen blueberries were 52 percent above last year, and consequently “there is a fire sale mentality in the marketplace.” His advice: “Stop doing it!”

Nonetheless, with this “worst economy in 40 years,” prices have softened. They rose from $1 a pound five years ago to about $2 a pound, a level that “began to stunt consumption, but lower prices will correct that,” he said.

Area by area, he placed production at 97.6 million pounds in the South, 58.1 million pounds in the Northeast, 94.3 million pounds in the Great Lakes area (88 million in Michigan) and 184 million pounds in the West.

Tart cherries

The national tart cherry crop is expected to go above 300 million pounds for the first time in some years. Eric MacLeod, with Cherry Growers Inc. in Traverse City, Mich., described it as “a nice crop, a full crop, but not a limb-buster crop” in northwest Michigan, where more than half of the nation’s crop is produced.

That area, which had a short crop of 96.5 million pounds last year, will generate 160 million pounds this year, well above the five-year average of 115 million pounds.

West-central Michigan also has a good crop of 60 million pounds. Southwest Michigan will come in with 14.3 million pounds, short of its usual level.

In total, Michigan will produce 234.3 million pounds of the estimated national total of 301.8 million. New York will contribute 8 million, Pennsylvania 3 million, Wisconsin 8 million, Utah 30 million, Washington 16 million and Oregon 2.5 million. Wisconsin, after a bizarre freeze cut the crop to 600,000 pounds last year, is strongly back this year, according to producer Jim Seaquist.

The Guesstimate on tart cherries coincides with the official USDA estimate, and the Cherry Industry Administrative Board meets immediately after the forecasts to decide how to regulate the marketing of the crop under the federal marketing order. Phil Korson, executive director of the Cherry Marketing Institute, said he expected a “restriction” on about 45 percent of this crop (see related story for details).

Grapes

Glenn Rogers from Honee Bear Canning Co. gave the report on the grape crop. Michigan’s wine grape production was forecasted to grow 10 percent to 5,200 tons, a mere drop in the bucket on the national scale but indicative of the growth taking place across the country. Just across the border in Canada, the wine grape crop was forecast at 73,000 tons, “a huge crop of wine grapes,” according to Adrian Huisman with the Ontario Tender Fruit Board.

Rogers estimated that Michigan would produce a Concord grape crop of 59,350 tons, the second highest in the last 10 years and well above the 45,800 tons produced last year. Niagara production in Michigan was pegged at 25,000 tons, up from 22,000 last year.

Numbers were not given for other production states. Washington produced 188,000 tons of Concords last year, New York 127,000 tons and Pennsylvania 81,500, according to USDA. The total Concord crop last year was 447,130 tons, according to USDA, and the Niagara crop was 60,390 tons. Michigan was the largest producer of Niagaras.

Sweet cherries
Michigan has “a nice crop of sweet cherries,” according to Eric MacLeod of Cherry Growers Inc.

Last year, the state produced 2.4 million pounds for fresh market, 3.6 million for canning, 18.3 million pounds for freezing and 28.2 million pounds for brining. These numbers are the 2009 Guesstimates: 2.4 million pounds for fresh sales, 3.6 million for canning, 20 million for freezing and 32 million for brining.

The Western crop is “quite large,” MacLeod said, with 315,000 tons coming from Washington, Oregon and California.

Peaches

Gordon Vanderslice, with Peterson Farms in Shelby, Mich., reported that total peach production in the United States was expected to be 1.1 million tons, including both cling and freestone peaches.

Michigan produced 14,000 tons of clingstones last year and will produce 19,000 tons this year, he predicted.

Brambles

Paul Askier, with Berry Brokers International in Olympia, Wash., said the economy has put downward pressure on prices of both blackberries and raspberries, where demand has been rising strongly. In the last two years, the price of raspberry juice has risen from 32 cents a pound to $1.73. He expects a “significant reduction” this year.

He estimated raspberry production in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia would be71.5 million pounds, and blackberries would come in at 43.1 million, both somewhat higher than production last year.





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