Red Delicious apples in Wapato, Washington, in August. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)
One year, Mother Nature shines on your orchards. The next, she wreaks havoc and shines on someone else.
Therein lies the story of the U.S. Apple Association forecast for the 2016-17 crop: 246 million 42-pound bushels, both fresh and processed, a 3 percent increase from last year and 3 percent above the five-year average.
The largest portion of the crop will come from Washington, forecast at 149 million bushels, a state that experienced high temperatures the past two years and drought conditions last year but saw excellent growing conditions this season.
Meanwhile, growers in the Northeast saw late spring storms and drought slice into their forecast. “The Eastern growing area can be summed up in one word, and unfortunately, that word is drought,” Jim Allen, president and CEO of the New York Apple Association, told attendees at the U.S. Apple Association annual meeting in Chicago in August.
Nine of the 11 states that contribute to the USApple forecast for the Eastern U.S. expected to see a decline in production this year, with the total forecast for the region down 10 percent to 53.8 million bushels
In the Midwest, which estimated its 2016 crop at 34 million bushels, Michigan could see a record crop of 31 million bushels, a 31 percent increase over 2015 that would top the five-year average by 49 percent “if it should come to be,” said Mike Rothwell, president and general manager of BelleHarvest Sales.
Overall, the West was forecast at nearly 158 million bushels, an increase of 5 percent from last season.
Washington’s forecast also would be an increase of 5 percent; after two years of hot, dry weather, Washington growers experienced excellent growing conditions with good size and color, said Jon DeVaney of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
Bearing acreage for apples in the U.S. declined 16 percent from 2004 to 2015. However, yields per acre have increased 45 percent since 2003, thanks to the increasing number of high-density plantings, said Mark Seetin, director of regulatory policy and industry affairs for USApple.
Nationally, Red Delicious remains the top crop, but production relative to other varieties was expected to continue to decrease as other varieties increase their share of overall production. Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji and Golden Delicious round out the top five varieties in the U.S.
Last season, world apple production closed at about 77 million metric tons, with China accounting for 56 percent of the overall crop. Here’s a snapshot of the apple crop forecast for other regions:
Canada estimated its 2016-17 crop at 17.1 million bushels, up 17 percent from last season and up 5 percent from the five-year average. That estimate could increase more if Eastern growing regions received much-needed rain, said Don Werden with the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association in Simcoe, Ontario.
Ontario growers, who experienced good bloom but a dry growing season, forecast a crop of 7.1 million bushels, which would be a 57 percent increase. McIntosh made up 25 percent of the crop, followed by Empire, Honeycrisp, Gala and Ambrosia.
Quebec’s crop was predicted to be 5.6 million bushels, down 4 percent from 2015. Growers there got off to a good start, Werden said, with no frost and a good, strong bloom, but there was some fire blight damage.
Nova Scotia growers forecast a crop of 1.3 million bushels following a dry summer growing season, a dip of 3 percent from last year.
Honeycrisp volume there continued to grow, at 325,000 bushels, comprising 25 percent of the crop, followed by Northern Spy, Cortland and Idared.
British Columbia expected a very early crop, though the region experienced hail damage in some areas.
Growers there forecast a 7.7 percent increase from last year, with Gala comprising 45 percent of the crop at 1.3 million bushels, followed by Ambrosia at 632,000 bushels.
Across Canada, McIntosh made up 32 percent of the crop, while Gala comprised nearly 13 percent.
Mexico expected another bumper crop: 31 million 20-kilogram boxes (roughly 44-pound boxes) a 15 percent increase from last year’s 27 million boxes, according to Leighton Romney with the Paquime Group in Chihuahua. That’s also 8.5 percent above the five-year average.
Strong growth was expected in Chihuahua, up 17 percent, and Coahuila and Durango, each up 10 percent.
Mexico will consume somewhere around 40 million boxes — and consumption is growing — but consumer prices are high and apples are still a luxury item, he said. The dollar exchange rate also is still high, and there will be no tariffs on U.S. apples for 2016.
South America contributes a mere 3 percent to the world’s apple supply but is a big player in the export market, competing with U.S. exporters.
Production there fell 19 percent in 2015 to about 323,000 metric tons, and growers anticipated another decline overall in the region, said Rene Alarcon, a broker with the Doehler Group in Santiago, Chile.
Argentina forecast a 20 to 30 percent decline in its crop size to about 550,000 metric tons, while Brazil anticipated a 15 to 20 percent reduction to about
1 million metric tons. Chile, the bright spot, saw growth in apple production, mainly driven by demand for bicolor varieties, such as Fuji and Royal Gala, he said. Crop size there could be up about 5 percent to roughly 1.6 metric tons.
Europe forecast its third largest crop at 12 million metric tons, down from the past two years but above the five- and 10-year averages.
Frost damage in Central Europe drove the forecast down to 420,000 metric tons for those countries.
Poland, which produces 35 percent of all apples in Europe, expected a strong crop, along with Germany, Greece and Romania. However, the ongoing Russian embargo against fruit and vegetable imports is likely to hurt market access as exporters seek substitute markets.
Apple production in China has climbed steadily over the past 15 years, with an average annual increase of 1.8 million metric tons from 2001 to 2015, according to Michael Choi, president of Zhonglu America, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese Zhonglu fruit juice company.
For the 2016-17 season, China will likely set another production record of 43.8 million metric tons, a 2.8 percent increase from the 2015 crop and a nearly 11 percent increase from the five-year average, he said.
Early varieties, such as Gala, should see a smaller crop, but a bigger crop was anticipated for later varieties like Qinguan and Fuji. •
Shannon Dininny is the managing editor of Good Fruit Grower. She writes articles for the print magazine and website and plans and prepares editorial content. -- Follow the author: Office (509) 853-3522 Cell: (509) 834-5321 -- email