While the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the apple industry up and down the supply chain, it has also presented unique opportunities, according to a new report released by the U.S. Apple Association at the organization’s 126th annual Outlook Conference. Considering these opportunities, and despite a challenging 18 months, apple production is expected to exceed 11 billion pounds this crop year.
USApple’s “Industry Outlook 2021” provides the most up-to-date data and analysis on U.S. and global apple production, utilization and trade. Authored by USApple Director of Industry Analytics Chris Gerlach, the report takes an in-depth look at the many trends and forces – from H-2A labor issues to online grocery shopping – helping to shape the U.S. apple industry.
According to a USApple analysis of Agriculture Department data, total U.S. apple production for the 2021-22 crop year will exceed 11.1 billion pounds or 265.4 million bushels. This represents a 2.7 percent increase compared to 2020-21 crop year production of 258.6 million bushels and is 1.3 percent less than the five-year production average.
Gerlach noted that these figures are more comprehensive than USDA data, which only looks at the top seven apple-producing states. “We’ve analyzed the production from states outside of the top seven and added that back to USDA’s figure,” explained Gerlach.
At the varietal level, Gala is expected to retain the top spot with almost 49.3 million bushels produced, accounting for around 19 percent of the U.S. apple market. Rounding out the top five are Red Delicious (35.7 m bu), Honeycrisp (31 m bu), Fuji (29.1 m bu) and Granny Smith (27.2 m bu). In comparison, the 2020 top five produced apple varieties were: 1) Gala 2) Red Delicious 3) Fuji 4) Honeycrisp and 5) Granny Smith.
With respect to fresh apple imports and exports, the U.S. still retains a healthy positive trade balance. In the 2020-21 crop year. the U.S. exported almost 41 million bushels of fresh apples while only importing around 5.2 million bushels. These net exports (35.6 m bu) are valued at almost $773.8 million.
“On a year-over-year basis, while the balance of trade has declined with respect to quantity, it has increased in value,” said Gerlach. “This is primarily being caused by a rapid decline in the value of imports from the 2019-20 crop year, but is also due to some resilience in export values which have not decreased as much relative to export quantities.”
“Any assessment of the U.S. apple industry must consider the agricultural employment situation,” said Gerlach. “We are losing domestic workers faster than we can replace them and so, increasingly, growers have had to turn to seasonal migrant labor, or H-2A workers, to meet their needs.”
This is a critical issue for the U.S. apple industry because this source of labor is expensive and getting more so. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), the minimum compensation rate for H-2A labor, has been increasing by more than 5 percent annually for the last 10 years.
From 2014 to 2020, average annual crop production employment fell by 3 percent and, in apple orchards specifically, it declined by 20 percent.
“Fortunately, throughout the disruptions brought on by COVID-19, the U.S. apple industry has not seen any considerable decrease in domestic demand,” said Gerlach.
Throughout the pandemic, apple packers and marketers have been quick to respond by offering bagged apples that give consumers added peace of mind by reducing the handling needed to stock and pick the fruit. Also, notes Gerlach, the most significant consumer trend to come out of the pandemic was the rate at which shoppers embraced e-commerce grocery shopping, which also aided the sale of apples. By the first quarter of 2021, e-commerce had grown to account for 3.5 percent of food and beverage store sales at $6.9 billion (up from $1.5 billion in Q1 of 2018 – an increase of more than 377 percent).
“All of these external forces, from labor costs to consumer grocery trends, will continue to shape apple production and utilization throughout the coming years,” said Gerlach.
Close to 300 representatives of the international apple and pear sector met at the Prognosfruit Conference on 10th August 2017 in Lleida, Spain. During the Prognosfruit conference, the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA), released the 2017 European apple and pear crop estimates. The 2017 apple production in the EU will decrease by 21 % compared to last year’s crop, standing at 9.343.000 T. The pear crop is predicted by European growers to be relatively stable at 2.148.000 T and to only decrease by 1 % compared to 2016.
The figures released at Prognosfruit leave room for careful optimism for the coming season, with a more balanced situation between supply and demand after the last three years, which registered in particular for apples, a peak crop.
The 2017 European forecast for apple is 9.343.000 T, which is 21 % down to last year’s figure, and 23 % less than the average of the last three years. This figure is based on the estimates from the top 21 Member States of the EU-28, having contributed to this report. In regard to varieties, Golden Delicious production will decrease by 18 % to 1.982.000 T. Gala is also estimated to decrease, by 3 % to 1.276.000 T. Idared will be down by 30 % to 679.000 T, while the production of Red Delicious is estimated at 576.000 T, which is a 9 % decrease compared to last year. Also, other new varieties (i.e. club varieties) will decrease by 15 %, from 157.000 T to 133.000 T. A particular point of concern this year was the intense frost during blossoming, and the drought during spring and early summer. In other non-EU Northern Hemisphere countries, significant decreases were noted: Russia (-37 %), Mexico (-30 %), Switzerland (-21 %), Belarus (-19 %), Ukraine (-10 %), and Canada (-5 %), while the USA is expecting a stable crop around 4.800.000 T. Additionally, China is expecting a further growth by 3 % compared to last year’s crop of 43.800.00 T. The US apple forecast will be updated after the US Apple Outlook conference in Chicago 24-25 August.
More specifically about the EU apple market, it is to be reminded that, over the last years, the market suffered the consequences of the Russian embargo and were more recently confronted by lower export volumes to North African markets. The new crop could therefore lead to a better balance of the supply. The market will start clearing stocks for most varieties, with expected good hand over from the Southern Hemisphere. Overall, the new season is due to start with two weeks earlier than average. There might be different market trends for each of the varieties, with better balance for Gala and more reduced volume for Golden or Jonagold, and Elstar. In the coming weeks, growers will closely monitor the quality, which could still influence the balance of the market between fruit destined for the fresh market and the fruit destined for processing. It is currently forecasted that ca 6.200.000 T will be moving on the fresh market and 3.200.000 T for processing.
In regard to pear, the total European pear crop in 2017 is estimated to reach 2.148.000 T, which is 1 % lower than last year, and 8 % less compared to the average of the last three years. This figure relates to the production of the top 19 Member States of the EU-28 growing pears and contributing with their data to this report. In 2017, the Conference variety will see its production decrease by 7 % to 844.000 T, and William BC will decrease by 6 % to 247.000 T. Abate F, on the other hand, is estimated to increase by 12 % to reach 332.000 T. Elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, crops increased, compared to last year, in Turkey (+11 %), Canada (+20 %) and Moldova (+50 %), whilst decreases are estimated for the production in Russia (-37 %), Belarus (-20 %), Switzerland (-34 %), and the US (-3 %).
In regard to the specifics, the market will be experiencing different trends between the Southern and Northern EU markets, reflected as well in higher volume of Abate and Rocha, while the Conference pear will be down. The pear season will start with less pressure than last year. There has been some positive development in the exports to new markets during the last years, but the effects of the Russian embargo will still be felt by the growers.
Overall, the European apple and pear sector stays committed to the best quality produce to be placed on the market and continues to adapt the orchards to varieties with taste and crunchiness adapted to evolving consumers’ expectations.
WAPA will continue to monitor the development of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere crop, and will issue updates whenever feasible and necessary.