VOG Consortium: after an abnormal year, this season returns to a full harvest of quality apples

Mon 20/08/2018 by Richard Wilkinson

The VOG Consortium has just ended an absolutely abnormal apple season: after a three-year cycle of difficult “post embargo“ seasons, the 2017/2018 season ended prematurely as product ran out.

Director Gerhard Dichgans comments:

“This is an absolutely unheard-of situation – I can’t remember it ever happening in the past. During these last few months there has been a shortage of European apples, and it appears that even the volumes of product imported from the Southern Hemisphere – in the specific case of Royal Gala – will only be able to cover demand up until the third week in August.”

“Even if the new European apple harvest”, Mr Dichgans continues, “looks like being abundant, it will find plenty of potential demand and an empty market, ready and waiting to consume the first fresh apples, which are now coming through.”

For this year, the estimates for the European crop – presented in early August at Prognosfruit in Warsaw – are clear: more than 12 million tonnes, a full harvest, although there are some doubts about the real size of the crop in Poland, which alone accounts for over one third of the European crop, but where less than 50% is for the fresh market. And there is also uncertainty regarding quality and sizes, as a direct consequence of the prolonged drought in the northern and eastern European growing areas in the spring/summer months.

In spite of this large question-mark over the coming market equilibrium, Director Gerhard Dichgans is still optimistic:

“Last season taught us an important lesson, which we must not forget: even though retail prices were sky-high in all European markets, volume consumption held up well throughout the central months of the season. This gives me confidence for the new season, too: if prices drop back to ‘normal’ levels, consumption may really take off, provided it is supported by impeccable product quality.”

For its member cooperatives, the VOG Consortium is forecasting a “table apple” harvest of 550,000 tonnes, meaning +17% compared to 2017, but still less than in the record year of 2016, when over 600,000 tonnes of table apples were harvested.

Harvesting began in the second week of August, with the very first Royal Galas from the valley floor, and it is now really getting into its stride in the hillside and mountain areas. In general, the fruit on the trees have good quality and ripeness, which is not too advanced, and with an excellent sugar content. Fruit growth during the spring months was very good, although it may have slowed a little during the recent hot weeks of July and the first few days of August. However, sizes are back to average after 2017, a very “small” year.

Although this year the South Tyrol – Südtirol region may not achieve its full production potential, this is due to a strong fruit drop, and because some areas in the valley show low number of fruits per tree or alternating crops.

“If we look at the estimates by variety”, Mr Dichgans states, “the figures point to an increase of +9% for Royal Gala, while the Golden and Red Delicious crops will be +30% and +25% higher respectively than the previous year.”

Forecasts for Granny Smith and Fuji are stable, with the same volumes as in the two previous seasons. Braeburn is expected to recover, with a crop midway between the two previous years.

The prospects for the Club apples are good, with an increase for Pink Lady®, Kanzi® and JazzTM, and a major surge for the still “young” envyTM, thanks to the orchards planted in the previous years.

There is also a growth in output of organic apples, with more than 22.000 tonnes, an increase of +48% compared to 2017. The key varieties in the organic apple sector are Royal Gala, Braeburn, Pinova/Evelina® and Cripps Pink/Pink Lady®.

Mr Dichgans continues: “We dispatched the first trucks immediately after the mid-August holiday, and I am expecting a very lively start to the campaign, since we are facing an empty market, with no carry-over of apples from the old crop and very few overseas apples.”

“The initial price quotations reflect those of the summer market for oversea apples, but it is premature to forecast how prices will develop in the coming weeks. We will have to wait for the harvests to really get under way in the main growing areas: for sure, we have to forget last season’s prices, though I am not expecting prices to collapse to the levels of three or four years ago.

In fact, crops in the key growing countries of “old“ Europe – such as France, Italy and Germany – will be 5% to 6% below the average for 2014-2016, which makes me optimistic that we will see a much more balanced market in the coming season. The real question mark is the export potential of those markets in the Mediterranean area which absorbed the surplus product after the Russian embargo. The most important thing is to recover the markets we were forced to neglect last season, and guarantee our customers continuity of supply to enable them to plan a full season again.”

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