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This year is turning out to be a record apple crop for the US with a 40% increase expected to reach the biggest harvest of close to 140 million boxes. On the downside, prices are trending lower due to the oversupply while exports have increased too.

Italian production increased by 2.9% last year with a very active marketing campaign in Europe. The Red Sea attacks are having an impact on the Suez Canal ship transits with prices doubling, while it is impacting the steady movement of export apples. Both Germany and Austria have seen a smaller apple harvest last year compared to previous years. Germany’s statistics office said the 2023 apple harvest ranks third among the lowest apple harvests of the past ten years. Austrian export volumes are lower, but they enjoy higher prices exporters there say. The Netherlands is seeing smooth sales of Elstar apples being sold at prices of 1-1.25 euros, a trend they haven't seen in recent years.

Unlike many other European countries with declining production, Spain has increased its apple production by 19%. Apples are earning 10 cents more above the levels of the previous season. This allows a recovery for producers who had losses over the past three years. Poland is seeing an intense demand at this point in the season. However, the Red Sea attacks present a major challenge for their shipments.

South Africa’s apple harvest could be up to 10 days earlier. Apple exports are expected to increase by 7% to 46.4 million 12.5kg equivalent cartons amidst strong local and international market demand. In the Chinese market local production has weather related problems with the quality of apples suffering. One of the biggest production regions Shandong has seen a big production drop due to the wet weather. On the positive side there’s high early season prices for imported apples. US apples are doing well, but New Zealand apples, which are said to be at the end of their season, are struggling in the China wholesale markets due to quality issues.

Italy: Total production 2.9% higher
Total Italian apple production in 2023 is 2,174,674 tonnes, +2.9% compared to the previous year. The volume of apples for industrial processing has decreased. Apple stocks for the fresh market on 1 January 2024 are 1,215,750 tonnes, up 4.8% from last year's record low and in line with the average of previous years. In December 2023, a total of 164,376 tonnes of apples were sold, a volume exactly in line with the average of the last five years. In the organic sector, positive and regular sales were confirmed, in line with the stock reduction plans.

At varietal level, Golden Delicious stocks on 1 January 2024 were 474,409 tonnes, returning to the same level as in 2020-2022. Red Delicious stocks were 37% lower than in 2022 and sales were satisfactory at 5% above the average for the last four years. The Club group showed a positive trend, with a record production of more than 227,000 tonnes and a relative stock 36% higher than last year, guaranteeing product availability until the summer.

The marketing campaign in Europe appears to be very active, mainly due to the reduced presence of Polish and German apples. On the other hand, overseas exports are experiencing logistical difficulties in the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Due to the shortage of containers, waiting times, re-routing and increased insurance, logistics prices on these routes are being renegotiated and in some cases almost doubled.

Germany: Third lowest apple harvest of the past ten years
With around 941,200 tonnes of apples, around 129,800 tonnes or 12.1% less were harvested than in the abundant year 2022 (1.1 million tonnes). Compared to the average for the years 2013 to 2022, the apple harvest was around 39,900 tonnes or 4.1 % lower. The two largest apple-growing regions in the north (Altes Land) and the south (Lake Constance region) also suffered significant declines. According to Destatis, the 2023 apple harvest ranks third among the lowest apple harvests of the past ten years.

Belgium: Belgian growers opt for other crops

Although prices are significantly higher this year compared to last year, a large proportion of Belgian growers continue to see little point in growing Jonagold. "The market situation has improved somewhat, as many decided to grub up their Jonagold trees at the beginning of the season. Still, we too are seeing more and more focus on the pear trade. This season, for instance, we decided early on to sell the entire Jonagold volumes to the industry as peeling apples. This way, you can still earn a bit of money without incurring extra sorting and storage costs. I don't want to run the risk otherwise."

Austria: Smaller export volumes
This year's apple harvest in Austria was also significantly smaller than last year. Consequently, major exporters in Styria have smaller export volumes. Nevertheless, the export season has started quite well, especially in European food retail, an exporter confirms. "There were essentially good starting prices at the beginning of the season and export prices are almost at the same level as last year. In the wholesale markets and in the eastern countries, sales have been rather subdued so far. The latter is due to the fact that they still have their own stored apples available and the price level of our apples has been too high so far."

Netherlands: Smooth sales of Elstar apples
Dutch apple growers have little to complain about this season. "Throughout the year, the sales of Elstar apples have been strong, and I anticipate that the prices will remain favorable. Apples with the right size and quality are being sold for 1-1.25 euros, a trend we haven't seen in recent years. The Maribelle apples are also experiencing good market traction, but the Jonagold variety is struggling to keep up with the pricing of other apples," notes a commercial orchardist with direct sales. In terms of quality, he emphasizes that the apples are top-notch this season. "The only challenge we're facing is the apple blossom weevil, resulting in occasional dropouts. It's crucial that we have access to effective crop protection measures; otherwise, this could become a significant issue for Dutch fruit cultivation."

Spain: Increases apple production by 19% despite decline in much of the EU
While in general, the apple production in most of the EU countries decreases this year, reaching almost 11 million tons; However, Spain is in the top position, since it increases its production by 19%.

Apple sales are doing well this season, in which prices are around 10 cents above the levels of the previous season. “After three years of losing money, with these prices the sector can begin to cover production costs, which have risen so much in the last four campaigns, especially labour costs, which will tend to rise,” says a Catalan grower.

Although prices are higher this year, apple consumption remains high thanks to the fact that the final price on the shelves still makes it still one of the most affordable fruits. Most fruits and vegetables have suffered production drops this year and their prices have risen quite a bit. Therefore, apple continues to be at the top of the most consumed fruits in Spain, with an average of 8 kilos per capita. In general, the outlook for the production and distribution of apples in Spain is favourable, not only because it belongs to one of the most consumed food groups, but it is also important to highlight that consumers are increasingly choosing domestic products versus imported products.

Poland: Seeing intense demand
At this point in the season, demand for Polish apples is intense. It’s still a waiting game regarding information about the Suez Canal, after armed operations in that area, a stable situation is required. Right now, the transport route has been changed, which means the area is avoided completely. It’s a major challenge, but it’s not up to the exporters to solve, as it’s a political issue.

Polish apple exporters have had experience with the South American markets over the past three seasons. The connection is good in that direction. However, the cooperation is still rather fresh and it’s developing at a steady pace year-by-year. Polish exporters are mostly sending striped Gala apples with an intensive colour to the South American countries.

South Africa: Harvest could be up to 10 days earlier
South Africa’s previous apple season was an unusually difficult one as hail in various areas took away a significant chunk of the exportable crop, but all round a more favourable season is expected in 2024. The apple harvest seems to be a week to ten days earlier.

The Royal Gala harvest in the central parts of the country, where the earliest apples are grown, has kicked off, with ample rain ensuring good sizes and “cooling orchards off nicely after hot spells,” according to a Free State apple grower.

Hortgro, deciduous fruit’s industry body, notes that apple exports are expected to increase by 7% to 46.4 million 12.5kg equivalent cartons. ”Bi-red apples such as Gala (+5%), Cripps Red (+11%) and Bigbucks (+33%) are expected to drive the bulk of the volume increase. There is also a positive outlook on Pink Lady volumes which is anticipated to increase by 8%, following the trend of the last few seasons.”

Apple demand, locally as well as abroad, is strong. The domestic price is R9.16 (0.44 euro) per kilogram. South African apples (mostly Cripps Red/Joya and Top Red from last season) are currently exported to the Far East, Asia and Africa.

Chinese market: Local production problems, high early season prices for imports
In Shandong, which is one of the biggest apple production regions and produces the most apples, the production is being reduced in the new season and has serious quality problems. This is due to bad weather conditions with too much rain. There are various problems such as rot and damage, and the proportion of juice fruits and preserved fruits is relatively high. The overall storage volume in Shandong production areas is slightly higher than for the same period last year. The opening storage capacity in Shandong was approximately 3.1773 million tons, which was 45,600 tons higher than last year's opening inventory.

The purchase price is relatively high, and the overall cost of storing apples in cold storage is relatively high. The proportion of first- and second-grade good in Shandong production areas is 20%-30%. The storage capacity of preserved fruits and secondary fruits in Shandong cold storage has increased significantly compared with previous years.

In terms of the import market, the U.S. apple production season started last month. It is understood that prices are relatively high in the early stages of the season, roughly the same as in the past, and the quality is better.

Currently, many varieties have arrived, including Gala, Red Delicious, green apples, and Ambrosia. Merchants said that the Gala apple is the best among them because it has a more popular taste and is suitable for a wider range of consumers. However, there have been fewer arrivals recently, and the selling price has increased by about 15% compared to before.

There is still a small amount of New Zealand apples arriving in the market. Wholesalers say because it is now at the end of their season, the quality is inferior.

US: Record apple crop
The US is experiencing its largest apple crop ever. Washington, the country’s largest growing state, is seeing a production increase of nearly 40 percent, resulting in a total production volume of close to 140 million boxes. With the Midwest and the Northeast growing regions experiencing average historical production levels, the country is faced with its largest combined crop in history.

As a result of record national production, all growing states are seeing an average selling price that’s down anywhere from 12 to 25 percent, depending on the variety, size, and grade. Although lower prices cause a subsequent increase in sales volume, overall dollar sales are down this year. Many growers won’t be able to get their expenses covered this year.

As supply outpaces demand, shippers are increasingly focusing on exports. Shipments to Asia are up significantly from last season. From Taiwan, demand for Fuji’s is strong and Vietnam has substantially increased its Gala imports. “While Asia is the largest export destination, demand from South America is up as well. All in all, exports from Washington state are up 95 percent over last season.”

Next week's topic: Avocados