New York Apple Association President Jim Allen doesn’t like to talk about micro-statIstics when it comes to the U.S. and global economies’ effects on the Eastern apple industry.
But, he said, there are signs that business is strong, regardless of the prevailing economic landscape.
“I don’t comment too much of financial health of individual growers; all I can say is in last number of years, we’ve seen a tremendous reinvestment in industry in facilities, planting, equipment and cold storage, and that money is coming from someplace,” Allen said.
Growers and shippers are investing in their facilities, which is perhaps the most notable sign of good economic health across the industry, Allen said.
Some grower-shippers backed away from commenting on specific issues related to the U.S. economy, but they agreed that the business climate seemed to be vibrant.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of optimism in the local industry, and I see signs of continued improvement, which supports that optimism,” said Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing with Wolcott, N.Y.-based Fowler Bros Inc.
Whatever the economic environment, Eastern growers have one advantage — location, said Brenda Briggs, vice president of marketing for Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.
“For us, we’re very close to our marketing areas up and down the East Coast, and that’s a very large percentage of the population,” she said.
Proximity to markets is an important factor to the economic well-being of Charlottesville, Va.-based Crown Orchard Fruit Co., said Henry Chiles, owner.
“We’re lucky we’re located close to whole lot of people, 70% of people in the U.S. within 500 miles of us, so that’s a pretty big plus,” he said.
The fortunes of apples growers don’t necessarily follow the same capricious track of economic trends, said Jack Bream, owner of Bream Orchards in Orrtana, Pa.
“People are eating apples. It’s a matter of getting the right price and getting the contract set and letting them roll,” he said.
Supply and demand within the apple category in any given season is perhaps the most important factor in a grower-shipper’s economic success, said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, N.Y.
“Interestingly enough, we’ve probably had some of the highest prices from the 2012 crop because of the Eastern and Midwestern crops, which were smaller,” he said.
Demand carried through to the 2013 crop, which was larger, due to more favorable weather conditions during the growing season, Nicholson said.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence for the ability of the industry and retailers to market the apple crop nationally at retail prices that have good returns to growers and through our promotional programs and ads, we’re able to address moving volume through those peak periods, particularly in the fall,” he said.