This year's European apple crop could be the smallest in five years if, as expected, production across the EU turns out to be down significantly this season.
According to early indications, poor weather – including widespread frosts which hit northern European orchards during the spring – is likely to mean a decrease in production of around 5-10 per cent, meaning this year's EU crop will almost certainly fall below the 10m-tonne mark to around 9.2m-9.7m tonnes.
As national associations continue to collate their preliminary forecasts ahead of next month's annual Prognosfruit meeting, due to be held on 2-4 August in Toulouse, France, the outlook for pears also seems likely to be towards a downturn in volumes, with trade sources suggesting a decrease of as much as 15-20 per cent, to around 2m-2.2m tonnes, may be possible.
At the end of last week, Prognosfruit organiser the World Apple & Pear Association (WAPA) hosted a special conference call of EU member state topfruit organisations to try and draw together figures for next month's official EU forecast announcement.
The fact that this year's Prognosfruit is one week earlier than normal, while production itself is in many cases running a week later than planned, has apparently made compiling the new-season data even more challenging than usual.
Speaking exclusively to Eurofruit after the conference call, WAPA secretary general Philippe Binard confirmed the initial consensus among European apple industry representatives was that spring frosts would most likely mean a major downturn in the size of apple harvests in France, Italy, the Netherlands and others – although not, significantly, in Poland.
"It's too early to say for certain," he cautioned, however. "The first estimates have been made by a number of countries, but these are very provisional."
"Europe is more or less divided in three at the moment: in the north it's relatively wet; in the south it's very warm; and in the east it's extremely warm and humid, which has led to a lot of hail and thunderstorms and, as a result, some damage.
"For the moment, Poland is expecting a larger crop because of new plantings, with around 50 per cent destined for the fresh market."
While Poland appears poised to produce more in 2012, Italy's crop is expected to be slightly smaller than in 2011, while French apple producers are said to be planning for "quite a lot less" than they turned out last year.
In Spain, meanwhile, pear output looks set to be down significantly after a number of producers in the north-eastern province of Lleida reportedly switched their production to peaches and nectarines.
As reported earlier by the Fresh Produce Journal, apple producers in parts of the UK are expecting a drastic reduction in the size of their crops.
Adrian Barlow of trade body English Apples & Pears said: "`Growers in the West Midlands` have had much more frost and hail damage and some producers are looking at just 10 per cent of their normal crop, meanwhile others were frosted out last year, but will have a larger crop this season."
"Looking at the country as a whole there will definitely be a smaller crop with smaller sizes in general."
In France, meanwhile, the Limousin region is said to be expecting just 10 per cent of normal crop volume following devastating frosts in April.
The Loire Valley is anticipating a 19 per cent drop year on year and in the south-west later varieties such as Braeburn have been worst affected and crops are likely to be some 30 per cent down year on year overall.