Jun 23, 2011
Nation’s fruit crops running late

Fruit harvests across the country will be later than usual this year thanks to cold, wet weather. Despite the delays, however, some forecasters are predicting larger-than-normal volumes for some crops in 2011.

Those were two of the main themes of the 56th annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate, held June 22 in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Guesstimate, organized by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, annually predicts the size of the coming fruit crop – in Michigan and across the country.

There was another theme at this year’s event: Labor.

Even though most speakers were expecting good crop sizes this year, they weren’t sure if there would be enough workers to pick them. Anti-immigrant legislation – pending or already passed – in several states is scaring away farm workers and already has led to labor shortages and lost crops, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

Apples

Donohue gave the 2011 guesstimate for the U.S. apple crop: 229 million bushels. That number also happens to be the five-year average, she said.

New production is an emerging story across the country, but it’s hard to estimate how much it’s contributing to the size of the crop at this point, Donohue said.

Washington state, the largest producer, will contribute an estimated 122 million bushels to the national total, Donohue said. That’s down from last year’s estimate of 140 million bushels and from the five-year average of 131 million bushels.

New York, the No. 2 producer, might contribute 29 million bushels this year, down just a little from its five-year average. It’s been cloudy and rainy in the Empire State, just like in Michigan, she said.

Michigan, the No. 3 producer, might produce 26 million bushels of apples this year, Donohue said, much higher than last year’s estimate of 15 million bushels and the five-year average of 19.8 million bushels.

Other speakers broke down Michigan’s guesstimate by region: West-central Michigan will contribute nearly 18 million bushels to the state total; Northwest, Southwest and Eastern Michigan will contribute 3.2 million, 3 million and 940,000 bushels, respectively.

Donohue listed the 2011 guesstimates from the other major production states. In Pennsylvania, where it rained all but three days during the pollination period, the guesstimate is 11.3 million bushels, down slightly from the five-year average of 11.4 million. California, about two weeks behind normal due to cool weather, is expecting 6 million bushels, down from the five-year average of 8 million. Virginia is expecting 5.3 million bushels.

Blueberries

Dave Trinka of MBG Marketing gave the 2011 guesstimate for North American blueberries: 524.5 million pounds (327.5 million fresh, 197 million processed). That number includes highbush and lowbush production. In 2010, North American highbush and lowbush growers produced about 666 million pounds of blueberries, he said.

The 2011 guesstimate for Michigan, the largest cultivated blueberry producer, is somewhat smaller than previous seasons at 88.3 million pounds (45.6 million fresh, 42.7 million processed). That’s down from the 2010 total of 115 million pounds. A January freeze, disease, flooded fields and soil moisture deficits last fall all contributed to the smaller crop. Harvest will be eight to 10 days late this year, Trinka said.

Indiana’s guesstimate is 3.75 million pounds, up from 3.6 million last year. That state is making a significant shift from the processing market to the fresh market, with 3 million pounds expected to go to fresh this year, he said.

Southern states, including Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, continue to expand their blueberry acreage. Florida’s harvest was already complete by June 22, with a crop of about 22 million pounds (up from 15 million pounds in 2010), Trinka said.

Sweet cherries

Mark Doherty of Peterson Farms gave the 2011 guesstimate for Michigan sweet cherries: 41 million pounds (3 million fresh, 1 million canned, 12 million frozen and 25 million brined). That’s up quite a bit from last year’s 31.2 million pounds.

This year started with promise for northwest Michigan: a mild winter, virtually no frost damage and adequate moisture. Things started to turn the corner a bit in spring, however, when an extended period of cool, wet weather led to marginal pollination and early signs of pests and diseases. The end result will be a variable fruit set for Michigan sweet cherries, Doherty said.

Demand for sweet cherries in all categories is strong – a bright spot in an industry that’s finding it increasingly difficult to harvest and deliver a quality product, Doherty said.

Tart cherries

The 2011 guesstimate for tart cherry production in Michigan, the largest producer, is 215 million pounds. Broken down by region, Northwest Michigan will contribute 140 million pounds to that total, with West-central and Southwest Michigan contributing 55 million and 20 million pounds respectively, according to the speakers.

Northwest Michigan’s trees were about four days behind normal on June 22. Bloom was strong, with the trees showing lots of vigor, said Eric MacLeod of Cherry Growers Inc. He expected harvest to start about July 20.

Tom Facer of Farm Fresh First and Phil Korson of Cherry Marketing Institute gave the 2011 guesstimates for other major states: 23 million pounds in Utah (up from 22.8 million in 2010); 13.5 million pounds in Washington (down from 15.4 million last year); 8.8 million pounds in Wisconsin (up from 5.5 million); 6 million pounds in New York (down from 7.5 million); 2 million pounds in Pennsylvania (down from 2.2 million); 1.8 million pounds in Oregon (up from 1.2 million).

Peaches

Leo Steffens of Peterson Farms gave the 2011 guesstimate for U.S. processed peaches: 556,000 tons. If that holds, it will be down from 2010’s total of 564,000 tons and the three-year average of 576,000 tons.

Michigan’s processed peach numbers were not given (to avoid disclosure of individual operations), but Steffens said he expected a full crop this year – which would be twice as large as last year’s crop.

The crops look nice in other states, too, including New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Steffens said.

Canada

Adrian Huisman of Ontario Tender Fruit Producers gave 2011 guesstimates for several Canadian fruit crops.

• Peaches: 21,000 tons fresh; 1,500 tons processing
• Pears: 3,500 tons fresh
• Plums/prunes: 2,000 tons fresh
• Grapes: 2,200 tons fresh; 63,000 tons processing
• Sweet cherries: 300 tons fresh; 40 tons processing
• Sour cherries: 4,500 tons processing
• Nectarines: 2,500 tons fresh

— Matt Milkovich





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