When the U.S. Apple Association holds its annual marketing and outlook conference in Chicago in August, it’s an occasion to look at the big picture. Not only do the 300 or so apple growers, packers, and shippers evaluate the size and condition of the United States crop, they try for an estimate of the entire global situation as well.

It all goes to the question, how big a marketing challenge is ahead?

At the meeting August 18-19, USApple pegged the size of the 2011 U.S. apple crop at 227.5 million bushels, up from 221.5 million in 2010.

Mike Rothwell, from Belding Fruit Sales and husband of USApple chair Julia Baehre Rothwell, claimed the extra bushels were in Michigan—though there were departures up and down from the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate all across the country.

In Michigan, the number-three state in production, the crop size was bumped to 26.1 million bushels from last year’s frost-damaged crop of 14 million. Rothwell said that, with new plantings coming on, the “new normal” for Michigan is probably 24 ­million bushels.

In Washington, Dan Kelly, assistant manager at Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee, estimated the crop size at 129.6 million bushels. The cool, wet spring set the crop behind by ten days to two weeks—the same as for sweet cherries. Kelly said harvest could go into mid-November

The late start could affect early apple sales. Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group, warned that lost early sales can’t be made up. “Be wary of a slow start this fall,” he said, recalling the marketing difficulties of the 2008 crop when the early price was set too high. “Don’t make that mistake and lose September and October,” he said.

For New York, the number-two state in production, Premier Apple Cooperative President George Lamont gave the forecast, pegging the crop at 30 million bushels. Given the large size of last year’s crop and the rainy bloom season this spring, Lamont said the ­average-size crop is unexpected. “We’re lucky to have a crop,” he said.

He said that Gala apples might be somewhat small, given growers’ reluctance to thin this spring because of the poor pollination weather. After the wet, cool spring, New York turned hot and dry—but rains in August were helping size the crop.

USApple makes regional estimates of the crop size, after growers and marketers meet and evaluate conditions in their areas. The East is made up of 20 states, with production dominated by New York followed by Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. The eastern crop was pegged at 55.1 million bushels, a million less than the USDA estimate.

In the ten states of the Midwest, Michigan claims 80 percent of the total crop. In the seven states of the West, Washington has more than 90 percent. California’s crop this year was estimated at 6 million bushels. Western production was pegged at 147.5 million bushels.

The industrywide change growers are making toward modern fresh-market varieties is having a large effect on apples available for processing. The market is short of such apples, and prices strengthened last year. Sheer availability of apples for juice and sauce is becoming a concern, said Tom Hurson, senior vice president of Tree Top, Inc., Selah, ­Washington.

Last year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the price for processing apples was $183 per ton, well up from $132 in 2009. The number of bushels used in processing was 71.3 million bushels last year, down from 74.7 million in 2010 and 77.8 million in 2009.