It takes true grit to try to assess the size and quality of the United States apple crop on the first day of summer, when the June drop still isn’t over and growers are making decisions about whether or not to thin one last time.
But each year, about 150 fruit growers and buyers gather in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate. This year, the 56th annual guesstimate was held on June 22 and produced the first estimate of the apple crop size. At that stage of crop development, there is a lot of guess in it.
The U.S. apple crop for 2011 was “guesstimated” at 229 million bushels, with Washington State contributing 122 million bushels to the total, New York adding 29 million bushels, and Michigan providing 26 million.
Two months later, when things are much more settled, the U.S. Apple Association holds its annual Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago. This year, that will be August 18 and 19. At that meeting, growers from all over the United States will gather in regional meetings and come up with a closer estimate of the 2011 crop and evaluate the challenges of marketing it.
Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, compiled the national numbers and presented the apple crop guesstimate. The event is sponsored by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, whose 14 members buy fruit for processing.
In Washington and New York, crop sizes are right at the five-year production average, but Michigan, which has had dismal crops in two of the last three years, will be just under the size of the bumper crop of 2009; the 2011 crop was shaping up to be the second biggest crop of the last eight years, she said. Michigan’s five-year average crop size is 19.8 million bushels.
Guesstimates of crop size were made for apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries, peaches, and blueberries.
Donohue described the national apple crop as very good, of average size and quality, coming into a market in which there will be no carryover of fresh apples from 2010. But, she added, new plantings are coming into production in all regions, making it more difficult to estimate accurately. The season was late this year, most everywhere, and, as summer began, June drop was still continuing in several states, including the three big apple states of Washington, New York, and Michigan.
The size of the Washington crop was still being debated, she said. She estimated the fresh market pack at 102.5 million bushels, noting that the industry experts she queried varied by 5 million bushels in either direction from that number. The crop in Washington was running late. Not only was June drop still occurring, the full effects of the deep freeze last November remained unsure.
In many of the production areas, bloom was full, but heavy rain and cool weather affected pollination, which was variable and sometimes poor, particularly in Pennsylvania where the crop size was estimated at 11.4 million bushels. The packout in the Mid-Atlantic states is a question. Last year, a new force, the brown marmorated stinkbug, damaged 12 to 15 percent of the Pennsylvania crop.
In California, weather had put the crop two weeks behind normal. Volume was pegged at 6 million bushels, below the historic average of 8 million. Virginia, the number-six state in production, was looking at an average size crop of 5.3 million bushels, and the stinkbug was already active in that state as well. The exotic stinkbug’s invasion into New York and Michigan was starting, but hadn’t yet come close to the epidemic affecting the Mid-Atlantic region.
The six top states contribute 87 percent of the total U.S. apple crop, and Donohue used that to calculate the size of the national crop, without surveying the smaller production areas.
Detailed estimates were made for Michigan, where reports came from four regions and broke production down by variety. The state had very low production last year and also in 2008, with USDA reporting just over 14 million bushels in each of those years. This year, Michigan’s major production region—the west central part of the state including the Belding area, Fruit Ridge, and two counties north of the Ridge—will generate 17.9 million bushels, about two-thirds of the state’s total.
The state’s production of Honeycrisp will reach 765,000 bushels, but Red Delicious remains the largest variety with 4.7 million bushels, followed by Golden Delicious and Gala at around 3 million bushels each.