Jun 7, 2012
2012 Fruit Crop Guesstimate: Some fare well, others don’t

Record-breaking warm temperatures in March, followed by a series of freezes, savaged Michigan’s tree fruit crops this spring, along with crops in other Eastern states. Western states, however, fared better.

Speakers went over the numbers June 6, during the 57th annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate in Grand Rapids, Mich. Organized by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association (MFFPA), Guesstimate speakers gather to predict the size of the coming fruit crops across the country.

The unusual warmth in March caused MFFPA to move this year’s Guesstimate up from the originally scheduled date of June 27. When the freezes hit in late March and April, there was talk of canceling the meeting altogether.

They decided to hold the meeting anyway, said Andy Janson, MFFPA’s president. If nothing else, Michigan’s fruit industry is living through some interesting times. The poor cherry crop was mentioned on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s, is promoting blueberries like never before.

Interesting times indeed, Janson said.

Apples

In 2012, the United States can expect a total apple harvest of about 190 million bushels, 84 percent of the five-year average of 224.5 million bushels, said Diane Smith, interim executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

The 2012 Guesstimate for Michigan’s apple crop was 2.9 million bushels, about 11 percent of last year’s 26 million bushels and 15 percent of the five-year average. (On June 5, Michigan Processing Apple Growers gave an estimate of 2.5 million bushels.)

Freezes on April 27 and 29 almost annihilated the state’s apple crop. What’s left might be hard to pick. Fruit quality is a concern, and labor will cost more, speakers said.

As an example of the dire straits, Dave Smeltzer of Per-Clin Orchards, Bear Lake, Mich., said his farm is capable of producing about 5,000 boxes of apples. This year, he hopes to get 800. Within an 8-mile radius of his farm, there are growers who have nothing, he said.

“It is staggering what has happened,” he said, adding, “We will survive.”

Meanwhile, Washington state could potentially see its largest apple crop ever, with an estimate of 145 million bushels this year (compared to the state’s five-year average of 128 million). Washington’s main concern is finding enough workers to harvest such a large crop, Smith said.

“Their focus will be to move the crop as fast as possible,” she said.

New York state has been “surprisingly quiet” this year, Smith said. It was difficult to get information, but she estimated New York would yield about half its average crop this year, or roughly 15 million bushels. The total could be lower than that, since the state experienced some of the same weather issues as Michigan, she said.

Pennsylvania experienced some freeze events, but still expects a crop of about 10.5 million bushels (compared to an 11.2 million bushel five-year average). California expects a crop of 7.8 million bushels (7.2 million five-year average). Virginia also had some weather issues, but can expect a crop of about 4.2 million bushels, about a million bushels below its five-year average, according to Smith.

Ontario apple growers also were hit. They expect a crop of 1.7 million bushels, well below last year’s harvest of 8.5 million, said Adrian Huisman, manager of Ontario Tender Fruit Producers.

Cherries

Speakers estimated a total U.S. tart cherry crop of about 75 million pounds, 27 percent of 2011’s Guesstimate of 270 million pounds.

Michigan’s tart cherry crop was estimated at 12.5 million pounds, less than 8 percent of 2011’s crop and less than 7 percent of the three-year average of 186.2 million pounds. And much of that 12.5 million pounds might not even make it to harvest, according to speakers.

Northwest Michigan, where the bulk of the nation’s tart cherries are grown, lost most of its crop March 25 to freezing temperatures, said Phil Korson, director of the Cherry Marketing Institute. In west-central and southwest Michigan, the “dagger” came on April 27, said Michael Schrom of Honee Bear Canning Co.

Utah is expecting 32 million pounds of tart cherries this year; Washington state about 25 million pounds; Pennsylvania 2.3 million; Oregon 2.5 to 3 million; New York state and Wisconsin expected about half a million pounds each, according to speakers.

As for Michigan sweet cherries, Mark Doherty of Peterson Farms in Shelby, Mich., estimated a 2012 crop of 5 million pounds. Last year’s crop size was 37.2 million pounds (the five-year average is 46.1 million).

Doherty’s original 2012 estimate was 7.75 million pounds, but considering cracking, fruit size, bacterial canker and massing birds, that seemed too high, he said.

“It’s not a very optimistic forecast,” he said.

Blueberries

Blueberries were the lone bright spot. The 2012 Guesstimate for North American blueberries is 836 million pounds, 485 million of those processed and the rest fresh, according to John Shelford, president of Shelford Associates.

That represents a 163 percent increase from last year’s total of 511 million pounds, and nearly double the five-year average of 452 million pounds.

Most of that growth came from the Western region. There’s a tremendous amount of acreage now in California, Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia. Shelford forecasted 169 million pounds of fresh blueberries would be harvested out West this year, along with 102 million pounds of processed berries. In the Southeast, meanwhile, he forecasted 95 million pounds fresh, 53 million pounds processing.

Bob Carini of Carini Farms in West Olive, Mich., said Michigan could expect a blueberry crop of 81 million pounds this year, about half fresh and half processed. That’s higher than 2011’s crop of 72 million pounds, but lower than the state’s five-year average of 96.6 million pounds.

Considering the damage done to other fruit, Michigan’s blueberry growers are grateful to have a crop this year. They expected to start picking between June 20 and June 25, Carini said.

Despite their rapid growth in acreage, North American growers need to keep South America in mind. Shelford predicted a total crop of 1.1 billion pounds for the Western Hemisphere this year. By 2016, that number could increase to 1.6 billion pounds.

That kind of growth is unprecedented, Shelford said.

“I wouldn’t believe the blueberry story if I hadn’t lived it,” he said.

Peaches

The 2012 Guesstimate for U.S. processed peaches is 526,000 tons, up from 2011 (511,000 tons) but down from the five-year average (551,000).

Matt Milkovich

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