USDA confirms tart cherry disaster mixed outlook for other fruits and vegetables

by Ron Sterk
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Three key reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week provided fresh insight into U.S. fruit and vegetable crops for 2012. Most dramatic was the department’s Cherry Production report that confirmed the loss of nearly all the tart cherry crop in top-producing Michigan and a 68% plunge nationally from 2011 production.

The U.S.D.A. also released its quarterly Vegetables and Pulses Outlook and Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, both less dramatic than the cherry report but not less informative.

“The majority of (Michigan) growers lost all of their harvestable crop this year,” the U.S.D.A. said in its annual Cherry Production report. Tart cherry production in Michigan was forecast at 5.5 million lbs, down 97% from 157.5 million lbs in 2011 and compared with annual production of 184 million lbs in the prior five years.

For the United States, forecast tart cherry production of 73.1 million lbs (36,550 tons) would be the smallest crop since 62.5 million lbs in 2002, when the Michigan crop was sliced to 15 million lbs in a similar weather scenario. That year brought a sizeable carryover from a crop of 370.1 million lbs in 2001, the second largest crop in more than 30 years. This year’s carryover was minimal coming off a 231.7 million lb crop in 2011 and a 190.4 million lb crop in 2010. Ripe, tart and pitted cherries in freezers on May 31 totaled 32,527,000 lbs, down 36% from a year earlier, the U.S.D.A. said in its latest Cold Storage report.

Food processors expect tart cherry supplies will be unavailable this year, or perhaps rationed by exorbitant prices. Some food manufacturers indicated they will be sub-stituting red raspberries or sweetened cranberries where applicable. Others suggested the severe losses in Michigan may inflict permanent damage to U.S. tart cherry production if growers decide to switch to other crops.

On a smaller scale but also hard hit by early budding trees damaged by freezing weather were tart cherry crops in New York (1.1 million lbs, down 81% from 2011), Pennsylvania (2.5 million lbs, down 22%) and Wisconsin (500,000 lbs, down 93%).

In contrast, production in the three major western tart cherry growing states, including Utah and Washington, usually No. 2 and No. 3 behind Michigan, and Oregon, was forecast at a combined 63.5 million lbs, up 9% from 2011. In 2002 the Washington crop also was down 29% due to poor pollination, while this year it is up 29%.

U.S. sweet cherry production in 2012 was forecast at 203,985 tons, up 11% from 2011.
Production and import forecasts from the U.S.D.A.’s Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook were down from 2011 for several fruits, although specific numbers were not always offered. The U.S.D.A. cited industry expectations for lower peach production in the three largest producing states of California, South Carolina and Georgia. California dried plum (prune) production was seen down 12% from 2011, on top of a smaller carryover. Early blueberry crops were smaller in Florida, Georgia, California and the Pacific Northwest, although higher production was expected in the Northeast.

For imported fruits, the U.S.D.A. said papaya shipments were down 12% in the January-April period, and down “significantly” in May and June. Imports during the first four months of 2012 of mangos were down 7.5%, of pineapple (combined fresh, frozen, canned and juice) were down 16%, and of bananas were up 4% but were declining in May and June.

As might be expected, the U.S.D.A. noted increased prices in cases where supplies were down from a year ago.

In contrast, supplies of many fresh vegetables were higher and prices were lower in the first five months of 2012, the U.S.D.A. said in its Vegetables and Pulses Outlook.

First-quarter prices at point of first sales for 11 major fresh vegetables were down 48% from the same quarter in 2011, according to U.S.D.A. data.

“With warm weather and good growing conditions across North America production regions, large volumes of high-quality fresh commercial vegetables are available and prices remain low in 2012,” the U.S.D.A. said.

But that wasn’t necessarily the case for processing vegetables, with 2011 production estimated at 340 million cwts, down 3% from 2010 and down 13% from 2009. Contracted production in 2012 was forecast even with last year.

“Wholesale prices for many processed vegetable products were up in the first quarter of 2012 in response to reduced 2011 supplies,” the U.S.D.A. said. While wholesale prices for frozen vegetables moderated
between April and May 2012, prices still were 10% above year-earlier levels, the U.S.D.A. said.

California processors con-tracted for 12.9 million tons of processing tomatoes for 2012, according to a May 24 survey, the U.S.D.A. said. If projected yields are realized in California, and when production in other states is included, processing tomato production may be record high, exceeding 13 million tons, the U.S.D.A. said. The California crop was contracted at $69.40 a ton, up 2% from 2011.

The U.S.D.A. forecast per capita consumption of fresh vegetables (excluding potatoes) at 143 lbs in 2012, unchanged from 2011 and about equal to the annual average since 2007, but down from 148 lbs between 2003 and 2007.

Consumption of processed vegetables (also excluding po-tatoes) was forecast at 117 lbs per person in 2012, up 6 lbs from 2011 but down about 3 lbs from the 2003-07 average. Forecast per capita consumption of frozen vegetables was 20.7 lbs in 2012, down just over a lb from 2011, and of canned vegetables was 96.5 lbs, up 7.4 lbs from last year but below both 2010 and 2009.

Just as weather already has impacted domestic fruit production for 2012, it still may have an impact on vegetable output as well.
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