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Northwest tree fruit crops marked by high quality, chart-topping volumes

by Lora Abcarian | November 10, 2009
The Pacific Northwest has reason to be proud of its tree fruit industry. The region is the nation's largest producer of apples, pears and sweet cherries. And information provided by the region's commodity boards presents an optimistic picture about prospects during the current season, in terms of both quality and volume.

Dennis James, director of marketing for the Pear Bureau Northwest, characterized the 2009-10 crop succinctly. "It is really outstanding," he told The Produce News in early November. "It is one of the best crops. Retailers have identified that they will be committing to profit this year. This is very in synch with our data analyses."

He continued, "We are very focused on value," and he noted that the concept of value is about more than dollars and cents. "We ask what value do we bring to the retailer, and what value do we bring to the consumer?"

Because the pear category continues to grow at retail, Mr. James said that the bureau is able to reach out to younger consumers. The bureau recently partnered with Honor Society, a musical group with a young fan base. "We are turning the kids on to the concept [of pear consumption] by creating a positive message," he said. "Once the kids get into this, they are really focused. It is really exciting."

Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said that apple movement for the 2009-10 crop has been outstanding. "There is a seamless transition from old- to new-crop apples. The domestic movement has been fantastic," he said. "The export movement is ahead of last year." Mr. Fryhover said in late October that overall movement of the current crop was ahead 26.7 percent compared to the 2008-09 season.

A recent freeze caused some damage in apple orchards. "But we didn't lose a lot of fruit," Mr. Fryhover said, adding that fruit affected by the freeze is expected to be sold in the early part of the season.

Overall volume figures are expected to be revised slightly downward. Mr. Fryhover said that Red Delicious is the only variety expected to be at or above estimated numbers released in August. Despite anticipated downward projections, he said that apple quality is excellent and that sizing is larger for the current crop when compared to last season. "Pricing is expected to be up in 2009," Mr. Fryhover added.

James Michael, promotions director for the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherries, said that producers shipped 20.5 million 20-pound boxes of cherries from the region. "The industry pulled together and shipped a record volume of cherries. We broke the previous record in the first 38 days of harvest," he told The Produce News in late October.

The harvest was delayed by a few weeks owing to cool weather. The marketing window was compressed as a result, with the peak period from June 25 through July 13. "From the first, it wasn't a race but a sprint," he quipped. "Growers were packing like crazy."

Cherry pricing was lower this season compared to 2008. Because the 2008 crop was short, Mr. Michael said that the trees "saved up some energy [for 2009]. Quality this year was fantastic."

(For more information, see the Northwest Marketrack in the Nov. 16, 2009, issue of The Produce News.)