Whereas last year's European apple season was adversely affected by a sharp reduction in harvested volumes, for the coming season production and prices are both forecast to return to normal.
Below, VOG director Gerhard Dichgans discusses the various predictions made at the recent Prognosfruit conference in Prague and considers the prospects for his own region of South Tyrol, Italy, which – despite significant damage caused by hailstorms in July – should turn out more than 1m tonnes of apples in 2013.
Gerhard, before talking about the upcoming campaign, can you make a final comment on the 2012/13 season?
Gerhard Dichgans: Prices began to rise in early autumn, as soon as market operators became aware of the reduced offer from many major apple-growing zones, including various areas in France and Italy. Despite the rise in prices, apple consumption actually remained remarkably constant in practically all European countries, with a very slight negative reaction in Italy. Month after month, our group sold a similar amount of apples to the previous season, despite a harvest down by roughly 15 per cent. The season finished early, but we continued to try to give priority to supplying our traditional customers and our strategic markets. At the end of the season, our commercial balance was positive. Unfortunately, this was not true of all sector producers, especially in the areas badly affected by spring frosts.
What detail can you give us regarding the forecasts for this year's harvest in South Tyrol?
GD: For the South Tyrol, the estimate for 'on-tree' yield is 1.05m tonnes, a rise of 10.7 per cent on last year. This is still a long way from being a return to full harvests such as those of 2009 or 2011. After the abundant spring blossom, the wet and humid weather has led to a normal amount of apples developing, but some varieties – such as Red Delicious – have suffered from poor fruit-setting performance. Average apple dimension is slightly smaller than in 2012. We must remember that the estimated on-tree volume will be reduced once the substantial losses caused by mid-July hailstorms have been deducted. Overall, the number of apples sent to storage will be only slightly higher than in 2012.
What should we expect in terms of price trends?
GD: Given the return to 'normal' harvest volumes across Europe, prices too will return to normal, encouraging a more regular destocking rate of larger stocks. But I foresee prices staying as they are through the late summer and the first months of autumn. For example, the first Gala apples of the season – ready for the market nearly ten days late – have immediately met with very lively demand, both from Italy and abroad. A major cause for this was the early end of last season's Golden stocks, along with the offer from abroad dwindling to a trickle.
As far as new markets and exports are concerned, how do you see the new season developing?
GD: In 2012/13, the Italian market accounted for 40 per cent of our sales. Despite the smaller harvest, we respected the quotas committed to major retailing networks and we intend to do so again in this new season. Germany, our second-largest market, will offer us extremely interesting prospects, especially in the second half of the season, given a national harvest down by 17 per cent – one of the lowest for some years. The northern European and Scandinavian markets should be favourable too, since our smaller apple sizes are more to their taste.
As far as new target destinations go, we remain extremely interested in the countries of the Mediterranean basin and North Africa, where we have grown robustly in recent years. In Spain, meanwhile, having further raised our sales volume in 2012/13, our objective now is to consolidate our market share and work harder on quality and brand distribution.
How is VOG's varietal renewal programme going?
GD: With a stable production area of roughly 10,000ha, our consortium's aim is not to further improve the quantity of our offer, but its quality. The main goals here are the clonal renewal of classic varieties such as Royal Gala or Red Delicious, and further investments in new varieties offering exceptional and original organoleptic features. In this context, the two most recent novelties presented on the Italian market are Kanzi and Jazz: despite their marked differences, both these varieties are – interestingly – crosses between Gala and Braeburn. Here our harvest is rising, and in 2013/14 we will be able to intensify our work on distributing them in Italy and in Europe. On top of this, we have also started planting another promising variety: Scilate, sold in collaboration with Enza under the name Envy, which offers remarkable organoleptic qualities, and which will soon be making quite a name for itself.