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Large U.S. apple crop looming

Early estimates of the apple crop in apple producing states indicate it will be a large one which may pressure harvest, sales and prices.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on June 30, 2014 11:39AM

Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Workers thin apples along the Columbia River near Chelan, Wash., June 9. This fall's apple crop could be huge in Washington and large enough in other states to make it large nationally.

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Workers thin apples along the Columbia River near Chelan, Wash., June 9. This fall's apple crop could be huge in Washington and large enough in other states to make it large nationally.

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WENATCHEE, Wash. — This fall’s national apple crop looks like a big one with a potential record crop in Washington offsetting lighter crops in the two other main apple-producing states, New York and Michigan.

Early estimates from meetings of Premier Apple Cooperative in New York and the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association in Grand Rapids indicate the national fresh and processing apple crop could reach 260 million, 40-pound boxes. That would be the third-largest ever, said Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce in Sparta, Mich., one of that state’s largest producers.

Washington will likely have a fresh crop of 140 million to 150 million boxes, eclipsing its record 128.8-million box crop of 2012, said Bruce Grim, executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association in Wenatchee.

The 2012 crop would have been 144 million boxes had not 15 million boxes of fruit been lost to hail, Grim said. With good fruit set, this year’s fresh crop should reach that if there are no major weather problems, he said. Washington’s total crop would be 165 million to 177 million when processed apples are added, he said.

Washington typically grows a substantial majority of the nation’s fresh crop.

Michigan is looking at 27.6 million boxes of fresh and processed apples, down from 30 million in 2013. New York is estimated at 28 million, down from about 34 million. With the exception of North Carolina, other apple states expect good crops, Armock said.

Southwest Michigan is down 40 percent due to poor pollination and statewide the crop is about a week late because of a slow spring, Armock said. Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and Fuji will be down because of their alternate bearing cycle, he said.

Michigan is capable of harvesting 35 million boxes due to new plantings, Armock said. This year’s crop so far looks clean with no frost events or scab, he said.

Alternate bearing and a hard winter are contributing to a lighter New York crop, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple and Cherry Growers Association. A grower in northern New York lost 40 to 50 percent of his crop from two consecutive winter nights of 43 degrees below zero, he said.

There well could be an oversupply nationally, which will push prices down unless Washington is able to export 60 million apples, Allen said. Its record is 40.5 million boxes exported in 2012. Increasingly better varietal mix helps sales, he said.

Grim and Armock said a huge national crop is manageable, citing better varietal mix and quality and fast-foot restaurants using more apple slices.

“The 2012 and 2013 crops were large and were marketed well,” said Grim, who also manages apple, cherry and pear marketing associations.

The East Coast crop could be even lighter than expected as New York has had significant fruit drop, early natural thinning, Grim said. The U.S. Apple Association’s annual outlook conference in Chicago, Aug. 21-22, will provide a better forecast, he said.

“What concerns me with a 144-million-box crop is weather,” Grim said.

In recent years, Washington has been fortunate to have largely good weather providing plenty of time for crops to mature and be picked, he noted. Rain, frost or an early freeze can impact maturity and compress the harvest window. That pressures picking if labor is tight, he said. It can mean more fruit has to be sold early if it’s not of adequate quality for long storage, he said.

“We need a break from mother nature to get an entire 144-million-box crop picked with an optimum and full-year marketing season,” he said.


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