U.S. fruit crops ‘guesstimated’ at about average size
Regionally, weather plays big role
After a big fruit crop across the board in 2009, fruit production in the United States this year was “guesstimated” at about average size—but some regions will fare better than others as they work around weather that seems anything but average.
The size of the national apple crop was pegged at exactly average, 231 million bushels, with Washington State growers faring better and growers in New York and Michigan doing poorer than last year.
The estimates were made June 16 at the Fruit Crop Guesstimate in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Guesstimate is sponsored annually by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association; its 14 fruit processor members started the event 55 years ago in an effort to get an early look at the size of the fruit crops they will buy and pack. More than a hundred growers and processors attend the event.
Some numbers are firmer than others, as the apple crop, for example, has yet to finish the June drop, while cherries are very near harvest.
Here is a look, crop by crop, at the numbers:
The Michigan apple estimate is the most detailed, with presenters making variety-by-variety estimates in four regions of the state. Overall, this third-largest producer’s output was pegged at 14.3 million bushels, half the size of last year’s big crop and about 70 percent of a normal crop.
The west central part of the state, which includes Fruit Ridge and two-thirds or more of the state’s apples, will settle for 10.3 million bushels, down from nearly 20 million last year, according to Tony Blattner, from Belle Harvest Sales in Belding.
Return bloom was good even after the big crop last year, he said, but weather events in the spring—a series of freezes culminating in the devastating freezes on Mother’s Day weekend May 8-10—cut the crop size and scarred much of the remaining fruit. Dawn Drake, manager of MACMA, which represents growers of apples for processing, said many apples that would normally go for fresh pack will not make the grade this year.
Many blocks of apples will not be sprayed for crop protection as there is no crop, according to Dave Smeltzer with Per-Clin Orchards, speaking about northwest Michigan. Freeze damage was widespread—some orchards have fruit up high in the trees but none near the ground. “We had green tissue March 31 this year,” he said, “and then a long, cold April with at least eight frost events that caused a long bloom period, poor pollination, poor fruit set—and then the freezes of the Mother’s Day weekend.”
In southwest Michigan, many growers pushed out Jonathans and some Golden Delicious and Romes after abandoning the fruit when the market for processing apples was saturated last fall, according to Phil Pitts, with the MACMA sales desk. This year, almost spitefully, Jonathans fared best in the face of freezes.
Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, presented the national figures, detailing expected yields in the top six apple producing states. She put the six-state figure at 201 million bushels, added 30 million for all other states, and came up with 231 million for total U.S. apple production.
Washington, which has been cool and rainy, was estimated to have a crop of 140 million bushels, up 1 percent from last year.
New York, which produces an average crop of 29.4 million bushels, will be down 20 percent at 24 million. Western New York’s crop was hurt most of any part of the state by the freezes.
California, also cool and wet, will have a shorter crop and it’ll be two weeks late. Its average is 8.1 million bushels; crop size this year was pegged at 6.5 million.
Pennsylvania will come close to its 11.3 million bushel average, at 10.3 million bushels. The state shared the East’s early warm weather, which advanced the season two to three weeks, but did not have the freezing weather after. The state enjoyed a good bloom and good pollination, Donohue said.
Virginia, too, had decent weather and will come in with an average crop of 5.3 million bushels.
No national figures were given for the sweet cherry crop. Michigan is a leading producer of sweet cherries for processing, with fresh marketing mostly incidental. Al Steimel, with the Leelanau Fruit Company, said Michigan’s crop, hurt by an early bloom followed by freezes, would come in at 50 to 60 percent of last year. He estimated production at 1.5 million pounds for fresh market, 2 million pounds for canning, 7.5 million pounds for freezing, and 20.5 million pounds for brining and production of glace and maraschino cherries.
That 31.5 million pounds total compared with 51.7 million pounds average and 57.2 million in the big crop last year.
On June 10, the United States Department of Agriculture made production estimates for the West. The combined 2010 sweet cherry production for California, Oregon, and Washington was forecast at 295,000 tons, down 24 percent from 2009 but 36 percent above 2008. Washington’s production was forecast at 160,000 tons, down 35 percent from last year’s record high production. Of the 245,000 tons produced in Washington last year, only 210,000 tons were actually harvested.
Oregon’s 2010 sweet cherry production was forecast at 45,000 tons, down 33 percent from 2009. California’s production was forecast at 90,000 tons, up 15 percent from 2009.
After a monster crop last year estimated at 358.9 million pounds that led to a 50 percent diversion under the federal marketing order that regulates the industry, tart cherry producers will harvest a crop estimated at 199.7 million pounds.
Tart cherries are a big fruit crop in Michigan, which has two-thirds of the nation’s production, and, as with apples, production estimates are detailed.
Northwest Michigan, where average production if 139 million pounds and production last year hit 186.5 million pounds, will have only 77 million pounds this year, half of normal, according to Eric MacLeod at Cherry Growers, Inc., a big processor.
The story is familiar. Early warm weather led to an abnormally early bloom, April 30, advancing the crop maturity 21 days compared with last year, but freezes cut the crop size. Harvest will start July 1 in Traverse City.
West central Michigan came through better and will have 54 million pounds, about average. Southwest Michigan will contribute 14 million pounds, its average.
Overall, Michigan will produce 145.5 million pounds, the estimators say, down from its average of 209 million and 266 million last year.
Six other states grow tart cherries: Utah is number 2, with 23 million pounds expected this year, half of last year’s number. Washington State’s production was estimated at 17 million pounds (16.7 last year) and New York’s production at 7 million pounds (10.5 last year). Wisconsin will have a very small crop of 3.8 million compared with 10.7 million pounds last year. Pennsylvania will have 1.7 million compared with 3.8 million last year. And Oregon will contribute 1.7 million pounds, compared with 2.7 million last year.
The United States Department of Agriculture released its estimate of the tart cherry crop size the next day. It pegged the crop size at 195.3 million pounds and found an even smaller crop in Michigan—140.0 million pounds.
The national processed peach crop will be well below average, according to Leo Steffens with Peterson Farms, Inc. Normally, the crop is composed 80 percent of cling peaches from California and a combination of cling and some freestone peaches produced in eastern states.
California will be down 10 percent, he said, producing its third smallest crop ever. Michigan will be down 20 percent, following winter injury and spring freezes. New York and Pennsylvania will be down a little, he said.
Overall, crop size is expected to be 525,000 tons, down from 583,290 tons last year and the average of 613,900.
Blueberries get a close look, since Michigan is the historical leader in highbush production. National and international production has been rising rapidly in recent year and is expected to double to a billion pounds in the next five years. The West has been growing in production, with Washington on its way to becoming the number 3 producer.
Frank Bragg, with MBG Marketing in Grand Junction, Michigan, said United States blueberry production this year will be up 8.4 percent over 2009 to 488.4 million pounds. Michigan will produce 103 million pounds of that, up from its five-year average of 91.6 million. The crop size was expected to be 115 million pounds before the Mother’s Day freezes.
Production by region was estimated at 115.7 million pounds in the South, 55.8 million pounds in the Northeast, 108.9 million pounds in the Midwest, and 208.0 million pounds in the West. Maine, the only state producing lowbush (“wild”) blueberries, will have a large crop estimated at 88.5 million pounds, virtually all for processing.
For the last three years, prices of processed blueberries have been weak because of a growth in inventory. “We have reversed that three-year tend and will have a firm market going into the season,” Bragg said. About half the product is sold fresh, the other half processed.