Apple outlook shines for Northwest, bleak elsewhere
Devastating weather around the world reinforces lead of Washington state
By DAN WHEAT
Washington apple growers should enjoy continued strong prices, if not their best ever, for the fourth year in a row.
Washington expects another large apple crop this fall while spring freezes and other weather problems cause production to be down in the East, Midwest, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
The U.S. apple crop will be 10 percent smaller than the 2011 crop and 10 percent below the average of the last five years, the U.S. Apple Association predicted at its annual outlook conference in Chicago, Aug. 16-17.
The association's forecast of 202 million, 40-pound boxes is 5 percent more than the Aug. 10 forecast by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. It's the widest variance between the two forecasts and mostly comes from Washington shippers believing they have a total fresh and processing crop of 145 million boxes versus the NASS prediction of 135.7 million boxes.
The Washington industry has predicted it will pack 108.7 million boxes for fresh sales. The big unknown is how much of some 10 million to 20 million boxes worth of hail damaged apples will be packed instead of processed for juice, sauce and baking ingredients, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
Hail grade and undamaged quality fruit will be sold simultaneously for the first five to six months of the season, Kelly said.
Prices should be strong through the coming season with hail grade dampening them some but not a lot, he said. Weekly prices of the tightening remaining supplies of the 2011 crop have climbed above $27 a box, he said.
Low national and international production means Washington prices should stay strong, if not their best ever, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.
But if prices go too high they could slow sales, trigger a price slide and spell disaster, Kelly warned.
Competition for supply will be keen and high prices probably will make it too costly for other countries to import as many Washington apples as they usually do, Fryhover said. Importers may buy 10 percent less and Washington shippers will prefer less risky domestic markets, he said.
The East and Midwest are looking to Washington apples to meet fresh fruit stand and processing needs, but there won't be enough apples to keep everyone's customers happy, Kelly said.
The U.S. Apple Association forecast of top producing states include: Washington, 145 million boxes, up 13 percent from a year ago; New York, 14 million boxes, down 52 percent; Michigan, 3.5 million, down 85 percent; Pennsylvania, 11 million, up 1 percent; California, 7.2 million, up 9 percent.
Smaller producing states include: Oregon, up 24 percent; Idaho, up 17 percent; Virginia, even; North Carolina, down 75 percent; Ohio, down 40 percent; Wisconsin, down 61 percent; and Vermont, down 20 percent.
On the international scene, Fryhover said, Europe is down 9 percent and Mexico is down about 30 percent. While the forecast in British Columbia is up 26 percent, bad weather in other provinces has pushed the Canadian forecast down 32.6 percent.
Washington's largest competitor in its growing Southeast Asia markets is China, and forecasts from there are always sketchy, Fryhover said. China will be up at about 2 billion, 40-pound boxes with 50 million boxes exported mainly to India, Vietnam, Indonesia and other neighbors.
China's labor and costs are going up so their apples are not as cheap as they once were but remain cheaper than U.S., he said.