CHICAGO — Help Wanted, Russia or Bust and Apples Rock!
Those were three of my takeaways from the annual U.S. Apple Association Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference Aug. 19-20.
Allow me to elaborate.
In his state of the industry address, John Teeple, U.S. Apple’s chairman, made it clear what the association’s top priority is in the coming year: immigration reform.
“The apple industry needs 125,000 workers for eight weeks, and there just aren’t that many,” Teeple said.
“We need to import our workers, or we’ll import our food.”
Despite the often negative portrayal of agricultural employers, Teeple pointed out that apple pickers typically earn $10-15 per hour and get free housing and often free transportation.
He criticized the Obama administration’s “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform, and called for real action on the issue.
Meanwhile, in the association’s annual U.S. crop overview, Mark Seetin, U.S. Apple’s director of regulatory and industry affairs, highlighted some recent industry trends.
In varietal news, galas continue their steady march upward, and goldens their decline. Grannies continue to gain market share, though that a more gradual pace. Fujis, meanwhile, seem to be on a roller-coaster course, up some years, down others, Seetin said.
On the export front, 2009-10 was a record year for U.S. apples, Seetin said. About 42 million bushels — 27% of the industry total — found homes in foreign markets.
And based on what another conference speaker told attendees, this coming season could accelerate that trend. The 2010-11 European apple crop is projected to be one of the smallest of the past decade, said Raquel Izquierdo, an official with the Brussels-based World Apple and Pear Association.
That represents a big opportunity for U.S. shippers looking to expand their footprint in Russia and other markets dominated by Poland and other European producers, Izquierdo said.
Phil Lempert, founder of SupermarketGuru.com, delivered the keynote address at Outlook 2010. Lempert told attendees that the apple industry is in an almost unique position.
“There aren’t many foods out there that are fun and healthy,” he said, adding that when he asks kids what their favorite fruit is, the almost universal answer is “apples.”
Apples, Lempert said, could well become the next superfood, and the heir to blueberries and pomegranates for the nutrition throne.