Eastern apple grower-shippers report very clean fruit and crop output that may be up slightly from a year ago.
While trade concerns related to retaliatory tariffs on U.S. apple exports cast a shadow over the market outlook, shippers said the crop should be manageable.
Even with a fairly large national crop, Jim Allen, vice president of marketing for New York Apple Sales, Glenmont, N.Y., said he is gearing up for a good year.
“I like to be positive when you have a large crop,” he said.
“You get into the marketing season and get into a nice groove, and you’re not looking for fruit and you get what your customers want day in and day out — you can sometimes make a big crop very easily managed.”
Overall U.S. apple production also is expected similar to a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mid-August crop production report, though last week the U.S. Apple Association forecast production numbers 6% below the USDA's.
The USDA estimated total combined fresh and processed U.S. apple production for 2018 at 287.5 million 40-pound cartons, up less than 1% compared with a year ago.
Washington production was rated off 4% from a year ago, while Michigan was up 40%, according to the agency.
The U.S. Apple Association estimates the 2018 apple crop at 256.16 million (42-pound) cartons.
The USDA projects New York production at 32.5 million 40-pound cartons, unchanged from a year ago.
New York apple marketers are looking forward to a good year.
“Overall, I’d say size is coming along very nicely here,” said Joel Crist, with Crist Bros. Orchards in Walden, N.Y. “The crop set better than expected after a heavy year last year.”
Crist said the crop is moderate to good-sized with slightly above average yields.
“This crop is beautiful and we’re going to have a range of sizes,” said Cynthia Haskins, president and CEO of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.
Jersey mac apples were the first variety harvested by Fowler Farms and they look spectacular, said Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing for the Wolcott, N.Y.-based company. Recent rain will help later harvested apple varieties, he said.
“Apples have had perfect growing conditions through the entire time from bloom until today,” he said in mid-August.
Despite the USDA’s call for steady New York production compared with a year ago, Allen said field reports indicate the crop is larger than the 2017 edition.
The lack of rain west of Rochester earlier in the summer may have held back sizing on early varieties, but Allen said rain since the middle of July will help mid-season and late varieties.
Field reports indicate the crop is very clean, Allen said.
“This year is a good year,” he said.
“Earlier dry weather hurt size on ginger golds and galas, but about four inches of rain in August is perfect for later varieties,” said John Teeple, owner of Teeple Farms, Wolcott.
New York orchards experienced a good bloom period with no frost issues to speak of, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director for Sun Orchard Fruit Co., Burt, N.Y.
Sun Orchard company grows apples in the northwestern portion of Niagara County, Orleans County and Wayne County. Harvest for the company starts toward the end of August.
“The king blooms set well, so there are lots of good apples on the trees,” he said.
Plenty of sunshine should translate to high sugar and great taste, he said.
Fruit sizes were expected to be medium, with a heavy crop load of galas perhaps translating to fruit size a little bit smaller than normal for that variety.
“I think there is going to be a good range of sizes,” Mansfield said.
The USDA said Pennsylvania apple output is forecast at 12.6 million 40-pound cartons, off about 5% from a year ago.
Fruit quality and color of the first ginger golds and Premier Honeycrisp look fantastic, said Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa.
The crop is estimated at 80% to 85% of a full crop, with no weather related damage — an improvement compared with the past two seasons.
“We’ve had a fair amount of rainfall here in this part of the country where other parts are dry, but it seems to be treating the fruit beautifully,” she said.
Virginia apple production, according to the USDA August estimate, is forecast at 5.5 million cartons, off 2% from a year ago.
The crop in central Virginia suffered a bit of hail damage, said Henry Chiles, owner of Crown Orchard Fruit Co. in Covesville, Va. Chiles said he may pack about 30% less than a year ago because of the hail.
“There has been too much rain, but the crop is good,” he said, noting good fruit size this year.
Leading varieties for the firm include gala, fuji, granny smith, Pink Lady, red delicious and golden delicious.
West Virginia output is forecast at 2.75 million cartons, up 8% from a year ago.
North Carolina output for this season is 2.88 million cartons, up about 15%, according to the USDA.
The 2017 marketing season was seriously affected by Washington’s volume of small fruit.
“That kind of dominated the market place, it kind of brought pricing down across the board,” Allen said.
“There wasn’t the sizing there to keep a good, healthy market going. Retailers weren’t hitting their numbers each week because they weren’t selling the volume at the pricing that they would like to,” he said.
This year, there are reports that fruit sizing is up in Washington, which would be a positive, he said.