The approach of the U.S. Apple Association Aug. 21-22 meeting later this week will be another chance for me to make the short hop to Chicago for an industry event, following earlier trips for the United Fresh Produce Expo and last week’s Midwest Produce Expo.

Of course, the main topic of conversation, the “big reveal,” if you will, is the size of the U.S. apple crop. Industry leaders will gather and make their own estimates to compare and contrast with the USDA’s August crop estimate. If you remember last year, the industry was flying blind because the USDA nixed the August crop production forecast because of sequestration money troubles. Not so this year; the industry will have a full sheet of government stats to pick apart and improve.

To preview that discussion, let’s look at the USDA’s August forecast of the U.S. apple crop, which was released Aug. 12.

From the USDA crop production report:

United States apple production for the 2014 crop year is forecast at 10.9 billion pounds, up 8 percent from 2013. Production in the Western States (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) is forecast at 7.33 billion pounds, up 13 percent from last year. Washington growers experienced a normal growing season with good irrigation supplies.

Production in the Eastern States (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) is forecast at 2.29 billion pounds, up 7 percent from last year.

Production in the Central States (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) is forecast at 1.27 billion pounds, a decrease of 12 percent from last year. Michigan growers reported a variable crop with different prospects by regions. The northwest and west central areas of the State reported good yields, while in the southern region many growers reported damaged trees from extremely low wind chills last winter. Ohio production was diminished this year due to below normal temperatures during critical growing stages.

 

TK: Getting beyond the USDA’s cumbersome use of pounds — the industry still prefers to convert the crop into 42-pound bushels - the 2014 crop has been pegged at 259.5 million bushels.. The 2014 U.S. crop won’t be a record - the 1998 crop hit 277 million bushels - but it is no slacker, either.

Most of the chatter from Washington state sources has been speculation about the size of the fresh crop there. The USDA estimate doesn’t try to put a number on fresh crop packout, but it does suggest record output for the total crop.

The USDA’s all-use estimate for the Washington apple crop was is 161.9 million bushels, up 14% from 141.6 million cartons last year. How much of that crop will be fresh? One industry leader said the fresh packout percentage varies depending on variety and time of the year, but he said fresh packout could average close to 82% of the total crop. Using that number - 82% fresh packout - the USDA’s total crop would convert to a fresh crop of about 132 million bushels, a new record by several million bushels over the 129 million bushel  fresh crop in 2012.

The state’s marketers have tentatively set the fresh market potential even higher, with the Aug. 1 estimate at right around 140 million fresh cartons. Keeping the right rhythm of returning a good price to the land with the required weekly shipments will test each and every marketer.

On the plus side, Washington marketers say growers have increasingly planted varieties that consumers love - gala, honeycrisp, fuji, pink lady and a slew of newer varieties - and that will help marketers will ever bigger volumes of apples to American shoppers.

With harvest already underway in Washington and other states, another chapter in this love story with consumers and apples is about to be penned. Growers/shippers in Chicago this week probably hope the tale is strictly sappy; they will gladly forego any drama, comedy, and lurking tragedy in the story line.