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Large apple crop supported by strong demand here and abroad

by Christina DiMartino | November 19, 2009
When a commodity such as apples experiences large national volumes, it typically means lower prices. But reports from across the country indicate that apples are enjoying strong movements both domestically and to foreign markets, and prices are holding.

"Last year, Washington shipped a record 102 million boxes of apples," said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, WA. "The November 1, 2009, crop report showed a 5 percent reduction from last year. Having less fruit is a good thing, as it helps with supply and demand. We're happy to say that the crop is moving into the marketplace strongly."

Mr. Fryhover said that as of Nov. 1, 17.6 percent of the state's crop was sold, compared to 14 percent on the same date in 2008. He attributed the increased sales this year to a few factors, including Washington's great- quality crop.

"Although last year's crop was large, it moved through the system quickly," said Mr. Fryhover. "Tremendous ad support continued through the fourth quarter, helping to boost the new crop."

Another factor helping to move Washington's crop is that the state is 26.7 percent ahead in exports compared to this time last year, and last year was a strong export year. The weak U.S. dollar means better prices for foreign customers.

"Growers exported over 35 million boxes to over 60 countries last year," said Mr. Fryhover. "We shipped over a million boxes to each of nine countries alone, including Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, China and Indonesia. We also have great domestic support, and we feel prices should increase as the season unfolds."

Michigan is also seeing a large apple crop, according to Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in DeWitt, who said that the official crop report came in at 27 million boxes, while the state's average is 19.3 million.

"We're very high this year -- and happy about it," said Ms. Donohue. "Last year, Michigan shipped between 12.5 million and 13 million bushels. During this year's growing season, the trees were a little rested, and we had moderate temperatures and good rain. Everything lined up for a good crop."

Michigan is also experiencing tremendous apple sales this fall. Ms. Donohue said that the third week of October showed the best sales Michigan growers have had in 27 years.

Michigan is also enjoying strong exports. Ms. Donohue said that heavy volumes are being shipped to Latin America, Mexico and Russia, and growers are anticipating their first shipments to India this year. And a good range of sizes and varieties are coming from the state to suit the preferences of each country. Russia, for example, likes large apples, while Latin American countries prefer smaller, pretty apples.

Michigan's larger-than-anticipated Honey Crisp crop is also helping to spur sales, as is the locally grown trend. Growers are doing well with both tray packs and bulk.

"Apples are a staple," said Ms. Donohue. "Our focus groups last February revealed that consumers were feeling pinched by the economy and fearful of what may lie ahead. While they are being more conservative and frugal in their purchasing, apples are not dropping off of the shopping list."

Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY, said that the state has a good-sized crop that is similar to last year, but movement is up considerably.

"That New York's movement is up 16 percent from this time last year is great news," said Mr. Allen. "We have a manageable crop with above-normal supplies in the East, and the crop is entering the market at moveable prices. When everything's in the barn, we'll have a better handle on supplies, and pricing may start to turn around for the better."

Exports are also way up for New York apple producers, and Mr. Allen concurred that as the dollar gets weaker, exports increase.

"Our exports are up by 60 percent this year," he said. "Our export markets are primarily Canada, the U.K., and we're starting to see increased shipments to Latin America."

The U.S. apple industry enjoyed another boost Nov. 13 when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Obama administration plans to purchase $18.6 million worth of apples in the near future. It will soon begin surveying potential suppliers and publicly invite bids to ensure near-term delivery.

U.S. Department of Agriculture programs likely to benefit from the apple purchase are the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

USDA food purchases are also used for distribution to victims of natural disasters.