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A bin of Buckeye Gala from the New Royal Bluff Orchard in Royal City, Washington, is pulled out of the tree row on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Gala is expected to overtake Red Delicious as the state's number 1 variety by volume this year. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

A bin of Buckeye Gala from the New Royal Bluff Orchard in Royal City, Washington, is harvested on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Gala is expected to overtake Red Delicious as the No. 1 U.S. apple variety by volume this year. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

 

A record crop in Europe, a horrible crop in China, a new king apple in America and a consumer population looking for more fruit online.

Those are among the headlines Thursday from Day 1 at the 2018 US Apple Outlook, the annual industry conference in Chicago, at which industry association leaders and marketing company executives prognosticate about the upcoming season.

European Union

Earlier this month, the World Apple and Pear Association announced a predicted a 12.61 metric ton 2018 apple crop for the European Union.

In just the past two weeks, the Belgium-based group officials has lowered the forecast a bit to 12.56 metric tons, Philippe Binard, the secretary general, told the conference attendees.

Either figure would edge out 2014 as the record year. However, the prediction still would put it close to the three-year average not including 2017, a very small crop due to frost, so sales desks can take heart, Binard said. “It’s not a situation that is completely out of control for the sales,” he said.

China

China has the opposite situation. An April 6 frost has cut down production anywhere from 30 to 90 percent depending on the location of the orchards, said Michael Choi, president of the Zhonglu America Corporation.

It’s so bad, some growers have given up on their crop this year and headed to nearby cities to find temporary jobs, he said. He predicted 32 million metric tons, a 28 percent reduction from 2017.

“The crop reduction was so huge, I’ve never seen it in my career,” he said.

However, he couched his estimates in caution. After March this year, the Chinese government has ceased releasing data. He came up with his estimate by visiting each of China’s production provinces and taking pictures. Many of them showed orchards with zero apples.

United States

In the United States, growers expect Red Delicious to yield its place as the leading variety by volume for the first time in more than 50 years. The Gala crop is projected to come in at 52.4 million 42-pound bushels. Red Delicious will be 51.7 million bushels. Granny Smith, Fuji and Honeycrisp will round out the top 5.

Before the estimates, Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst from the NPD Group in Port Washington, New York, said online sales of fruit will continue to go up.

Right now, shoppers buy 4 percent of their groceries online. He expects that to reach double digits in the next few years as online retailers allow for picking specific pieces of fruit and lead the boxed-meal kit movement. “You have a service provider now, not just a retailer,” he said.

– by Ross Courtney

Click here to read our coverage from Day 2 at the 2018 US Apple Outlook.