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US: Apple demand awaits tight supplies

Beautiful, tasty apples lead to beautiful, tasty prices, especially when there are fewer of those apples to meet a strong consumer demand, according an organization that tracks sales for the U.S. apple industry. The apple industry began the new year with fewer apples in storage than at this time a year ago, according to a January survey of apple storage facilities by the U.S. Apple Association, also known as USApple.

Steady consumer demand for fresh apples was reflected in strong December 2007 movement, which was 3% higher than a year earlier (13.2 million bushels compared with 12.8 million bushels) and about 6 percent above average demand for the past five years (12.5 million bushels). Total fresh apple holdings as of Jan. 1 were 73.5 million bushels, 2% under January 2007 inventory figures of 75.1 million bushels, but 1% higher than the five-year average of 72.8 million bushels.

`Grower and consumer prices moved slightly above last year`s prices,` said James R. Cranney Jr., vice president of USApple. `The industry produced a beautiful, high-quality crop, and consumers are signaling that they like it.` Total U.S. holdings of fresh and processing apples on Jan. 1 amounted to 111 million bushels, which is 4 percent below the 115.7 million bushels from a year ago. It also falls 1 percent below the five-year average of 111.7 million bushels. Processing apple holdings as of Jan. 1 were 37.5 million bushels, down 7 percent from 2007, and 3% less than the five-year average for that date.

Fresh-market and processing apples in controlled atmosphere (CA) storage totaled 94.1 million bushels, a 2% decrease from 2007, but nearly the same as the five-year average. Fresh CA holdings amounted to 66.8 million bushels, nearly the same as a year ago, but they were 2% more than the five-year average, according to the survey. On a regional basis, the survey found that fresh holdings in the Pacific Northwest, the nation`s leading producer of apples, were 1 percent higher than a year ago, and 2 percent higher than the five-year average for that date.

Those numbers mirror statistics compiled by the Washington Growers Clearing House, a Wenatchee, Wash.-based organization that tracks apple harvests and sales in the state. Fresh-market holdings in the Northeast are 2% higher than a year earlier, and 8% higher than the five-year average for that date. However, in the Southeast, fresh holdings are down 30 percent from a year ago, and 34% lower than the five-year average. In the Midwest, fresh holdings are down 37% compared with holdings on Jan. 1, 2007, and down 20% from the five-year average.

Fresh-market apples in storage as of Jan. 1 are 48 percent lower in the Southwest than a year ago and 50 percent lower than the five-year average. On a varietal basis, fresh Gala, Golden Delicious and McIntosh holdings are higher than the previous year`s holdings at that time, while Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Empire have seen a drop in holdings.

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