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What to expect from California apples

While the California apple deal is just a blip in the industry when you consider that the state of Washington harvests more of the fruit in a week than the Golden State does over the course of a year, Alexander Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, noted apples from his state couldn’t be fresher since once they are harvested, the industry moves them into the pipeline immediately.primavera-galas

“A lot of people out there still don’t know that California grows apples. But first and foremost, we’re the earliest apple that’s available thanks to the micro-climates that we have,” he said. “The great thing about California is that we grow 350 types of commodities and apples are one of them. We’re able to have a first-out fresh supply.”

California’s 2017 apple season runs from mid-July with harvesting lasting through the beginning of October. The outlook for this year is good based on early projections, with around 1.6 million boxes expected.

“Based on the industry information I have received, it’s looking like a really good harvest,” Ott said. “The crop is looking good. Obviously, the concern for a while was water, but it looks like we’re going to get through fine this year. We also need to make sure the heat doesn’t [affect] the apples too much but we have a lot of folks that have the technology and the overhead irrigation that keeps a lot of that heat low. That makes us very optimistic and we’re anticipating a slightly bigger crop than last year.”

Although a large percentage of California apples are sold domestically, nearly 20 percent of California apple volume is moved offshore to places like Canada, Mexico and Southeast Asia.

Rich Sambado, president for Primavera Marketing, based in Linden, CA, said that while California’s deal is a small one, there is a dedicated grower network to get the state’s apples to the marketplace.

“The state of California’s apple industry is only about 1.6 million boxes now, so we’re not a huge factor, but we’re a niche deal,” he said. “We offer a fresh apple each month and will process around 1.2 million apples this year. Our apples are fresh. We don’t store our fruit.”

Primavera just started harvesting Galas the week of July 24 and staffers have been happy with what they have seen. It will start Fujis around Aug. 15, Granny Smiths around Aug. 28 and Pink Ladies the week of Oct. 16.

“Overall size of fruit is small, but that’s okay, because we are walking into a market that is looking for small fruit,” Sambado said. “We’re close to 650,000 Galas so we are front-loaded and we have all the newer strains of Galas with overheard cooling that gives us great pressure, as well as excellent color. We can crank out big volume in a manner of a few weeks.”

Primavera Marketing has the ability to pre-size its fruit to meet fresh pack customer requirements for apples thanks to most of its growers being located within a 50-mile radius of the company’s facilities.

“This allows us to maximize volume on any one specific size that ensures fresh arrival on new crop varieties,” Sambado said.

In 2017, most of Primavera’s customers are retail, representing about 90 percent of its business with apples marketed under the Prima Frutta label.

In other apple news around the state, the California Apple Commission has recently partnered with the Buy California Marketing Agreement (CA Grown) to better connect consumers with California apple growers.

“The program encourages a lot of buyers here in California to buy California and buy local,” Ott said. “California has a great label, it has a great name and by working together with other commodities and by showing the nutrition value and different types of recipes and uses of fruits and vegetables, we can provide consumers healthy and nutritious apples.”

It’s also doing some research on shade cloth, which Ott said would help reduce water consumption and reduce sunburn and keep field heat temperatures low.

The commission is also discussing ways to better address some of the shortage of labor issues and is looking into fire blight for both conventional and organic apples.

Organic apples are also on the rise in California with Ott noting the category increases each year.

“We also try to keep market access issues open so if we can help our friends to the north, like Washington state, continue to have market access of all of California, we have to export those apples otherwise we will have a gluttony of apples in the U.S.,” Ott said. “We want to keep those open so we can provide a good quality product for everybody.”