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Smaller Apples and Shifting Markets for 2020 Northeast Apple Crop | Updates to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Paid Leave Requirements
Volume 14, Issue 10
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Smaller Apples and Shifting Markets for 2020 Northeast Apple Crop
Last spring, there was a great deal of concern about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic might have on the Northeast apple industry. Thankfully, things have turned out better than expected in many ways, and the worst predictions seem to have been avoided.
One concern was that apples in storage weren’t shipping fast enough and there could be significant stocks left come fall harvest time. While storage levels both nationally and in the Northeast remained elevated into the summer months, sales were adequate to clear most of the stored crop, which may help limit inventory overlap.
Fruit set early on was good for most growing areas in the Northeast, but subsequent insufficient rainfall resulted in significantly smaller-sized fruit for many growers. Drought conditions were most noticeable for growers in New England, but impacts were seen across the region. Smaller fruit has created some marketing challenges for growers as retail fresh markets generally require specific-sized fruit. Smaller fruit is often sold in pre-packed bags at lower price points, which can reduce grower margins.
The 2020 national apple crop is estimated to be 10.6 billion pounds, about 2% below the 5-year average. New York’s apple crop is estimated at 1.3 billion pounds, less than 1% greater than the 5-year average.1
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the apple market in a number of ways. While the loss of foodservice markets was detrimental, stay-at-home orders increased retail sales of shelf-stable produce items, including apples. The USDA also initiated several purchase programs for food banks, including the “food box” program, and some of these included apples in the mix.
For orchards marketing directly to the consumer, either through farm stands or pick-your-own operations, late summer and early fall customer traffic has generally exceeded expectations. The coronavirus has created operational challenges for these businesses as they try to manage both employees and customers safely, but customer interest and turnout has been strong. The desire of consumers for outdoor activities coupled with nice weather has resulted in a surge of traffic for many retail growers.
There is no doubt the season has been challenging, but most growers report managing to work through it successfully. Many fruit growers use H-2A workers and keeping workers safe and free of COVID-19 has been a priority. However, this has required modifications to work practices, decreasing the efficiency of some operations. Providing safe housing conditions has been a particular challenge. Finally, harvesting a crop similar to last year’s by weight, but comprised of smaller fruit, has required more hand labor and some operations had to add workers or hours.
The hope is that a slightly smaller national crop could boost wholesale pricing and product movement for growers going into 2021. 2019-20 pricing was fairly weak for much of the season, although some improvement was seen late in the season. However, smaller fruit sizes, coupled with concerns over exports, could limit the upside potential for the coming year.2
1 USApple, 2020 Apple Crop Estimate, September 2020.
2 Northwest Farm Credit Services, Apple Market Snapshot, September 30, 2020.