Fruit prices on the rise

by Ron Sterk
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Prices for many fresh and processing fruits are higher, or forecast higher, for 2012-13 because of reduced supplies, mostly the result of weather-related losses earlier in the year.

Apples are one of the best examples as a 6% larger crop in the top-producing West region is more than offset by a 31% smaller crop in the East and a 79% smaller crop in Central states as multiple freezes inflicted significant damage on early-blooming trees in the latter two regions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Total U.S. apple production is forecast at 8,066 million lbs in 2012, down 14% from 2011 and the smallest crop in more than 20 years.

Apple prices responded even with shipments through August running 31% ahead of a year ago because of the early harvest. Prices paid to growers for fresh apples in August averaged 52.9c a lb, the second highest August price since 1985, according to the U.S.D.A. The average price in September rose to 61.6c a lb, up 46% from September 2011, even as the harvest gained momentum.

“Overall, fresh apple grower prices are likely to remain strong this season as a result of below average production,” the U.S.D.A. said in its latest Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook.

Consequently, the U.S.D.A. forecast per capita fresh apple consumption at 13.95 lbs in 2012-13, down 9% from 2011-12, which already was below the average of the past 30 years, according to the U.S.D.A.
Processing apple supplies may be even tighter and prices even higher as the fresh market pulls some supply away from the processing market. The U.S.D.A. noted supplies of sliced apples were down 30% from 2011-12, canned, juice and other apples were down about 25% and dried apples were down 13%.
Prices for juice apples in 2011-12 already were up 32% from 2010-11 to the highest level since the 1980s due to reduced production and exports from China.

So far this season prices for juice-type and peeling-type apples reported in Food Business News were double to triple year-earlier values in Michigan and the East and were modestly higher in Washington.
The U.S.D.A. also noted reduced production and higher prices in 2012-13 compared with 2011-12 levels for pears, strawberries, table grapes and raisin grapes, with prices for the latter possibly reaching record highs for the third consecutive year.

But there were no greater losses due to weather than in the tart cherry crop, which goes mostly into the frozen market, about 70% of which is typically grown in a small part of Michigan. Tart cherry production in 2012 was forecast at 73.1 million lbs, down 68% from 2011.

“A majority of tart cherry growers in Michigan lost their entire harvestable crop,” the U.S.D.A. said. Production in Michigan was estimated at 5.5 million lbs, down 97% from 2011, New York output was down 81% and Oregon was down 93%.
“The huge decline, combined with lower carryover stocks, should lead to tight overall supplies of frozen tart cherries, raising tart cherry grower prices to near or at record-setting levels,” the U.S.D.A. said.
Tart cherry imports in the first seven months of 2012 were 12.5 million lbs, more than three times those during the same period last year, but have never been greater than 18.6 million lbs, achieved in 2002.
Globally, peach and nectarine production in 2012-13 was forecast at 19.4 million tonnes, up about 3% as a larger crop in China (62% of total production) more than offset mostly flat to lower output in other countries.

Combined 2012-13 sweet and tart cherry production was forecast at 2.4 million tonnes globally, down 2% from 2011-12 as lower output in the E.U.-27, the United States, China and Uzbekistan more than offset steady to higher production elsewhere.

U.S. citrus fruit production in 2011-12 was estimated at 4.1 million tons for the fresh market, up slightly from 2010-11, and at 7.6 million tons for processing, down 1%, the U.S.D.A. said. Total packinghouse door equivalent value was $3,443 million, up 6% from 2010-11. Initial 2012-13 production forecasts will be in the U.S.D.A. Oct. 11 Crop Production report.

The U.S.D.A.’s Fruit and Nut Index in September was 199% of the 1990-92 base of 100, up 12% from August and up 10% from September 2011.
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