Italian fruit group VOG Consortium says things are looking up the 2017-18 apple season, with significantly lower European production volumes set to create more favourable market conditions than previous years.
The group said it had kicked off the last marketing season with an excellent crop of around 628,000 metric tonnes (MT), but the campaign had proved to be another challenging one due to “the same critical factors” as past years.
It highlighted an increase in Polish apple volumes on the European market due to the Russian embargo and also the political and financial instability of the North African countries as two key reasons for the difficulty.
But it said that “after several months of a good rate of sell-out from the store”, prices had surged in the market in early spring this year.
This surge was supported by more and more reliable information about the massive damage suffered by farmers in many apple-growing areas due to the spring frosts in the middle of the blossom season, it said.
Earlier this month the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA) predicted a 21% fall in the EU apple harvest this year as a result of the frosts, with production forecast at 9.3 million MT.
According to VOG director Gerhard Dichgans, however, this volume will not be achieved.
“The losses caused by the spring frost are huge. What’s more, during the last few weeks, bad weather and hailstorms have aggravated the already serious damage, and unfortunately this also applies to the Alto Adige region,” he said.
“At the end of July, our group estimated our eating apple crop at 570,000 tonnes, -10% compared to the previous season.
“After the hailstorms in the first week of August, we now have to reduce this estimate by 70,000 tonnes, giving us 500,000 tonnes, or -20% compared to the 2016 crop.”
The reduction in the size of the group’s crop is reflected in decreases for all the traditional varieties, with falls of 15% predicted for Royal Gala, Red Delicious and Morgenduft, and 10% for Granny Smith.
The worst hit are Golden Delicious, estimated at -35%, and Braeburn, with -25%. The only exception is Fuji, which will equal the figures for 2016, which VOG admitted had been poor.
For club apples, the consortium is forecasting a crop more or less in line with the previous year.
Pink Lady and Jazz are estimated at -10%, while volumes for Kanzi and Envy will be the same as in 2016, thanks to the new orchards planted in previous years.
“The Royal Gala harvest began on the weekend of 12-13 August, with the first shipments scheduled for the third week of the month. About one third of this variety has now been harvested,” Dichgans said.
“The temperatures have finally dropped during the last few days, and the cooler nights have enabled the fruit to colour up well.
“The important thing is the fruit’s internal quality, which ensures the keeping properties and shelf-life our customers want. Unfortunately, there is one serious drawback: a shortage of the large fruit sizes in demand on the Italian and Spanish markets.”
He anticipated the market would get off to a “fairly slow start” in August, but added that when harvesting was complete in autumn, players would become aware of the “real figures” for the 2017 crop.
This would be especially true for VOG’s biggest markets of Italy and Germany, where Dichgans said there would be a shortage of the two leading varieties, Golden Delicious and Jonagold.
He added that in the second part of the season this would be reflected in apple prices, which had already been “on the move” for several months.
“The growers hit by the spring frosts and this summer’s hailstorms will not find much to be cheerful about in this new apple harvest,” he said.
“But the essential factor is this: balance is being restored to the market and – from this point of view – things are looking up for our growers.”