Dan Wheat/Capital Press
The 2018 U.S. apple crop is estimated at 256 million, 42-pound boxes and marketers who have to sell that crop are worried about tariffs hurting sales to Mexico, India and China.
“The White House has taken actions to restrict trade with Mexico, India and China, which are our first, second and sixth largest export markets,” Mark Boyer, chairman of the U.S. Apple Association, said at the group’s annual crop outlook conference in Chicago, Aug. 24.
“That has us all unsettled as we kick off the new harvest,” he said, adding that it’s important growers remain united in lobbying, particularly on the trade front.
The crop estimate is down 6 percent from last season and down 2 percent from the five-year average. IT’s also down 6 percent from the USDA forecast for this season.
A slight smaller crop means it will be easier to sell, said Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington, in Yakima. But he said he thinks the Washington fresh crop is understated and will be closer to the five-year average.
But that larger factor pointing to a great season is superior quality compared with the last two seasons, he said.
“I’ve said it before, the cherry crop is often the indicator of the apple crop and we had outstanding cherry quality this season,” Zeutenhorst said. “Now we have outstanding apple quality and that will drive sales and consumer demand more than anything.”
U.S. apple growers export about $1 billion worth of apples annually, roughly one-third of the country’s crop, which predominately comes from Washington state. The Northwest Horticultural Council, in Yakima, is estimating a $129 million loss in exports to Mexico, India and China for the coming year-long sales season.
Retaliatory tariffs from top markets against Trump administration tariffs jeopardizes valuable trading relationships, said Boyer, a Pennsylvania grower who turned over the one-year board chairmanship to Kaari Stannard, a New York grower.
Boyer highlighted other issues significant to growers like securing a stable and reliable workforce and passing the farm bill which includes programs like crop insurance, research grants and the Market Access Program funding overseas promotions. Food safety is another issue the association works on.
Washington’s total fresh and processing apple forecast is 155 million boxes, down 13 percent from last season. New York is even at 31 million boxes. Michigan is up 40 percent at 28 million. Pennsylvania is down 5 percent at 12 million.
The next tier in millions of boxes: California, 6.2, up 16 percent; Virginia, 5.1, down 4 percent; Oregon 3.7, down 12 percent; North Carolina, 2.3, down 3 percent; West Virginia, 2.5, up 3 percent; Idaho, 1.3, up 14 percent; and Ohio, 1.2, up 10 percent.
Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at NPD Group, a New York market research company, told the conference that consumer shifts toward healthy foods bodes well for fruit, which remains in the top 10 consumed items.
Most apples are eaten at lunch, and Honeycrisp apple sales to distributors have posted double-digit growth in the last two years demonstrating restaurants’ desire to give customers premium varieties and new flavors, Seifer said.
Online food retail is in its infancy and is important, as is brand transparency, he said.
U.S. Apple Association represents 40 state and regional associations representing 7,500 apple growers nationwide.