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Three recent fruit crop forecasts predict larger apple and tart cherry crops and a smaller one for sweet cherries for the coming year.

If the sweet cherry prediction bears out, this will be the second straight year for a smaller national crop, according to data released in early July in the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) Non-Citrus Fruit and Nuts annual summary.

These Gala apples near Selah, Washington on August 20, 2015 will be part of the estimated XXX million harvested in the U.S. in 2015. The total size is expected to be lower than the record crop from 2014, which totaled more than 275 million bushels. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Gala apples near Selah, Washington.  (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Cherries

NASS estimated 2016 U.S. sweet cherry production would be 318,000 tons, down 5.5 percent from last year, with Washington producing 195,000 tons, down almost 13 percent. It also projected California’s sweet cherry crop to be nearly equal to last year, Oregon’s crop would be up slightly and Michigan’s up by nearly a half.

This year’s tart cherry forecast predicted Michigan would be the only state of the top five producers in the country to produce more tarts than it did in 2015.

NASS forecast a 222.7 million pound tart crop in Michigan, 43 million pounds in Utah, 24.4 million in Washington and 8 million pounds in New York. It predicted total U.S. production to be 309.1 million pounds.

Apples

Mark Seetin, the U.S. Apple Association’s director of regulatory and industry affairs, coordinated the Premier Apple Cooperative’s national apple forecast for the 2016 crop year at its annual marketing meeting in Syracuse, New York, on June 27.

Based on 42-pound bushels, Premier’s growers and marketers pegged 2016 national apple crop production at 263.3 million bushels. The estimate is based on conditions as of June 27 and assumes normal weather until harvest.

Washington production was estimated at 168 million bushels. Michigan was predicted to harvest 28.5 million bushels.

The Premier survey predicted all Northeastern states, save New York, would have reduced crops this year, due primarily to the late spring spate of sub-freezing temperatures that swept through the Mid-Atlantic states from early to mid-April. He predicted a 9.7 percent increase for the Empire State to 29 million bushels.

That’s an interesting call since New York was among the hardest hit during the April freeze. “All the planting that’s been going on there, with the new production moving to high-density, plus the improved technology, will support a larger crop this year,” said Seetin.

Premier projected Virginia to produce only 3.8 million bushels.

MFFPA Annual Guesstimate

The Michigan Frozen Fruit Packers Association released its 61st Annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the same day NASS released its cherry forecast.

MFFPA projected total U.S. tart cherry production would reach 351.3 million pounds this year, nearly a third more than last year. Michigan, it predicted, will produce 253 million pounds or 72 percent of the total.

The group projected Michigan apple production to be near 26.3 million bushels this year, nearly 10.5 percent more than last year’s production. Bushels of Red Delicious (4.8 million), Gala (4.7 million) and Ida Reds (2.4 million) are its top three projected varieties.

Weather cramped yields

NASS’  production summary for last year also revealed yield reductions nationally in the apple, sweet and tart cherry, nectarine, grape, blueberry, pear and plum crops. Only peaches showed a per-acre tonnage increase.

Washington State Tree Fruit Association president Jon DeVaney cautioned year-to year production comparisons could be difficult to make, especially with apples.  “All tree fruit crops are heavily weather-dependent but alternate bearing can be an additional factor with apples,” he said.

Some crops — cherries, for instance — are more weather-dependent than others. The summer of 2015 had some very hot temperatures coupled with restricted water supplies.

Northwest cherry growers had cold season problems, too. “There was a freeze event in November 2014 that led to the loss of cherry trees that were not yet into dormancy,” said Dennis Koong, deputy director of the NASS Northwest Regional Office in Olympia, Washington.

In addition, he noted apple and pear fruit-size was much larger in 2014 than last year, which could also have affected yield numbers.

Weather was the culprit in Michigan, said John Miyares, NASS Great Lakes Region Office field crop and fruit group leader. “Last year was the second hard winter in a row for Michigan. We also experienced cooler spring temperatures, and it didn’t warm up until June,” he said.

The harsh winter hit the Michigan wine grape industry particularly hard as well as its peach crop, which was still rebounding from the 2014 polar vortex.  An Aug. 2 hailstorm did a lot of damage to apples, too.

In California, drought was the main culprit. All of the state’s federal irrigation allotments were cut, and with all its orchard crops on irrigated acreage, lower yields came as no surprise.

“We were in our fourth year of drought,” said Jeff Olson, a NASS agricultural statistician from its Sacramento, California, regional office.

Weather in the Northeast was relatively normal, with no outstanding weather events, except a late spring, said Charles Maximowicz, agricultural statistician at the Northeast regional NASS Office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.