(June 21) If last year’s apple marketing season rivaled a potholed, orange barrel-laden traffic jam, U.S. apple shippers figure to be on easy street as the end of the 2001-02 marketing season draws near.
By the time the nation’s new crop arrives — slated to begin in mid-August — lower-than-average controlled-atmosphere holdings and increased prices should greet what figures to be a down year productionwise in most areas of the country, growers say.
Joe Nicholson, president and general manager of Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, N.Y., estimated late-summer, early-fall f.o.b.s to be at least $2 higher than they were in early June. On June 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following prices for tray pack cartons of CA storage apples from Washington’s Yakima Valley and Wenatchee Districts: golden delicious, $20-22 for 72s and $16-17 for 100s; fuji $16 for 64-72s and $11-12 for 113s. Red delicious apples were commanding $11-12 for 72s and $12 for 80-125s.
Last year in mid-July, golden delicious prices ranged from $16 for 72-88s to $14-15 for 100s. Fujis fetched $12-14 for 72-125s.
Those prices could go up further, says John Rice, sales manager for Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., because of questions concerning the national fresh crop, which is not expected to reach its potential, according to a U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., informal survey.
“One of the things that will be different this year than in recent years is that I don’t think people will carry a lot of apples into August and very few into September,” Rice said. “If apples are around, people will be holding back in an effort not to run out.”
Neil Galone, vice president of fresh sales for Snokist Growers, Yakima, Wash., said his company ran out in late April, but elected to do so.
“We elected to pack as we would in a regular season,” said Galone as he inspected a cherry field. “Rather than try to stretch it out, we decided to pack normal volumes.”
By the time Snokist’s golden delicious harvest begins in mid-August, Galone predicted Washington’s fall crop to be of reasonable but not excessive size.
“We’ve had good growing conditions, and we should have a good crop,” he said. “Nothing has happened so far to indicate that we won’t.”
Nicholson, whose firm also hopes to start its crop in mid-August, said there could be a slight nationwide gap during the transition from old to new. He also said most of the Eastern states could be down in production this year thanks to cold weather during bloom and pollination in April and May.
As of June 1, the U.S. Apple Association reported national fresh-market holdings of 16.7 million bushels, 27% less than the same time last year and 23% less than the five-year average.
Northwest holdings, with Washington’s 15.1 million bushels remaining, revealed similar figures. Last year, at this time, Washington had 20.5 million bushels remaining. Similarly, Michigan’s storage has fallen from 1.3 million bushels in 2001 to 462,000 this year, helping put the Midwest 62% below the previous year’s figures.
Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., said Michigan’s fall crop could start a week later and be 70% of a normal year.
“We will still have ample supplies to take care of us most of the year, but we might get done a month earlier,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rice Fruit Co., a year-round shipper, plans to finish its remaining stores of golden delicious and fujis by late July. Later varieties, red delicious and rome, should run until the end of August, before the fall crop’s start during the second week of September.
Concluded Winkel: “Marketing apples is never easy, but it should be easier this year. Whenever you have fruit sitting on the ground, you are definitely at a marketing disadvantage.”