Sep 9, 2014
USApple estimates third-largest crop in history

Editor’s note: The following numbers are based on USDA and USApple’s revised estimate of the size of the 2013 crop.

The U.S. Apple Association has announced its estimate of the size of the 2014 U.S. apple crop: 263.8 million bushels.

The estimate was given during USApple’s annual Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference, held Aug. 21-22 in Chicago.

The 2014 estimate – slightly higher than USDA’s Aug. 12 estimate of 259.2 million bushels – represents a 6 percent increase over the 2013 crop (248.6 million bushels), and a 16 percent increase over the five-year average (227.7 million bushels).

If the estimates hold, 2014 will produce the third-largest crop in U.S. history (the top crop – 277.2 million bushels – was in 1998). Mark Seetin, USApple’s director of regulatory and industry affairs, said this will occur despite the fact that bearing acres have declined dramatically, shrinking from their peak of 468,000 in 1995 to 328,000 in 2013. Bearing acres have declined 15 percent since 2003, but yields are up 31 percent. That’s a “tremendous testament” to the new technologies, improved crop management materials and increased knowledge that growers are applying to their orchards, he said.

The industry also is benefiting from savvier marketing techniques than it had a generation ago, which have helped grower prices continue to increase – even in high-production years. A huge crop isn’t necessarily a bad thing these days, Seetin said.

West

The forecast for Western states was 174.2 million bushels, the bulk of which (162 million bushels) will come from Washington state. California (5.9 million bushels), Oregon (3.7 million bushels) and Idaho (1.6 million bushels) round out the top Western states.

Washington’s 2014 estimate – the state’s biggest crop so far – is 14 percent greater than its 2013 crop and 19 percent greater than its five-year average. Growers are expecting big, light-colored apples. The state had one of its hottest Julys on record, and one of the biggest wildfire seasons it’s ever experienced. There was loss of fruit in some northern orchards, but it was mostly trees on the edges of apple blocks that were damaged, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House (which is merging into the Washington State Tree Fruit Association).

California growers started picking early varieties in mid-July, about 10 days ahead of schedule. Water shortages have been “critical” in that state, Kelly said.

East

The forecast for Eastern states was 55.9 million bushels, 7 percent smaller than the 2013 crop but 1 percent greater than the five-year average.

The forecast for the top state in the East, New York, was 30 million bushels, 11 percent smaller than the 2013 crop but 5 percent greater than the five-year average. Pennsylvania (11.8 million bushels), Virginia (4.2 million bushels), North Carolina (2.3 million bushels) and West Virginia (2.2 million bushels) round out the top Eastern states.

Overall, Eastern states are looking at an excellent-quality crop, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.

Midwest

The forecast for Midwestern states was 33.6 million bushels, 2 percent smaller than last year but 36 percent greater than the five-year average.

The top Midwestern state, Michigan, can expect 28.7 million bushels in 2014, 4 percent smaller than 2013 but 48 percent greater than the five-year average. Mike Rothwell, president of BelleHarvest Sales, said Michigan has experienced three crop failures in the last five years, which must be kept in mind when considering the state’s five-year average (19.4 million bushels). In fact, 2013-14 will be the first time since 2006-07 that Michigan will produce two consistently sized apple crops in back to back years. The state has finally broken the up/down crop cycle it’s been experiencing lately, Rothwell said.

The forecast for other top Midwestern states includes Ohio (1.7 million bushels), Wisconsin (919,000 bushels) and Indiana (525,000 bushels).

Varieties

The top U.S. variety is still Red Delicious, despite its dramatic drop in production in the last couple of decades (from 118 million bushels in 1994 to an estimated 59 million bushels in 2014). The decline of Red Delicious may have stabilized in the last several years, however. It’s hard to imagine the variety will stop being grown altogether, since it’s still very popular in export markets, Seetin said.

The decline of Golden Delicious (26 million bushels in 2014) mirrors that of Red Delicious, as older, more traditional plantings continue to be replaced by newer, higher-density plantings of more popular varieties. Red and Golden Delicious made up 57 percent of total U.S. apple production in 2000, but will make up an estimated 33 percent in 2014, Seetin said.

Production of Gala, which overtook Golden Delicious as the No. 2 variety several years ago, has increased fourfold since 1997 (10 million bushels then; an estimated 43 million bushels this year). Fuji (26 million bushels), Granny Smith (23 million bushels) and Honeycrisp (13 million bushels) round out the top six varieties in 2014, according to Seetin.

Matt Milkovich





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