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California apple growers gearing up for a great year

by Lora Abcarian | August 08, 2010
The California apple industry is anticipating an excellent year with its 2010 crop. "We're just really excited about the quality," said Alexander Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission. “We are expecting a good-sized, quality crop.”

The news is especially important since 2009 did not represent one of the state’s better crop years. “Compared to last year, 2010 will be really good,” Mr. Ott said.

California has approximately 20,000 acres in apple production for fresh sales, farmers markets and processing. Of this total, fresh production accounts for approximately 7,500 acres. According to Mr. Ott, the acreage figures are down compared to 2009, but production has remained stable. When asked about these dynamics, Mr. Ott said, “It’s a combination of things. Some people got out of apples and got into a different commodity. Others have re- grafted or planted at higher density. You’re going to get more production on smaller acreage.”

This season, Mr. Ott anticipates California apple growers will inject 3 million boxes into the global pipeline.

Weather conditions during the spring were cool and somewhat wet. By the end of July, apples were coloring well, and sugar content was good.

Galas are the first variety to be harvested. “We’ve been going really hard since the tail end of [July],” Mr. Ott told The Produce News. In all, he expects 900,000 40-pound-equivalent boxes of Galas will be produced this season.

The Granny Smith harvest will begin this month, and 1.5 million boxes are anticipated. The variety has been the volume leader for the Golden State. But Mr. Ott said that things may change in the near future. Growers have increased acreage in Gala production, planting newer strains such as the Buckeye. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Gala overtakes Granny,” Mr. Ott said.

The Fuji harvest will begin in September, and the production level has been estimated at 350,000 boxes. Cripps Prink production will begin in October and is estimated to be 150,000 boxes. All other apple varieties will account for about 50,000 boxes this season.

The majority of California’s apple production is conventional. Mr. Ott was asked about organic volume coming from the state, and while the commission does not have a production figure for this sector, he said that organic has remained stable. “It’s been a good market.”

California is the nation’s fifth-largest apple producer. Mr. Ott said that apple production in the state has been relatively flat during the last three and five years. But forecasts are calling for increased apple volumes as new acreage comes into production.

“We have our niche market,” Mr. Ott went on to say. “We’re taking the varieties we do well and focusing on them. We try to get in and out of the market as quickly as possible. We don’t store our apples. We pick, pack and ship them.”

Between 35 percent and 40 percent of the apple crop will be marketed inside California, with the balance sold elsewhere. Mr. Ott said that California is the nation’s second-largest exporter of apples, and 20-22 percent of the product will be marketed offshore in 2010.

In 2009, Canada was the nation’s largest export market. Taiwan was second, followed by third-place Malaysia, fourth-place Singapore and fifth-place Mexico. Foreign markets continue to emerge. “One of the markets that we did see some growth in last year was Saudia Arabia,” Mr. Ott said.

“There is interest in apples in Russia on the eastern side,” he continued. “The challenge is getting them over there and logistics.” The California Apple Commission plans to continue its work to maintain the current foundation and market in Russia.

India is another emerging market with good potential. But, as Mr. Ott noted, pricing and logistics can affect shipments. “If domestic pricing is stronger, you won’t ship [apples],” he said.