(Aug. 25) CHICAGO — After a down year in 2005, the world’s biggest apple producer should enjoy expanded volume in 2006, according to an Aug. 17 workshop on Chinese apple output at the U.S. Apple Association’s Outlook 2006 conference.

“We are back to a normal crop,” said Maggie Xie, general manager of the White Plains, N.Y., office of Shaanxi Haisheng Fresh Fruit Juice Co. Ltd., Shaanxi, China.

China is expected to harvest an apple crop of about 21.1 million metric tons, up 3.3% from the 20.41 million metric ton crop of 2005. This year’s crop is down 11% from the bumper crop of 23.68 million metric ton crop of 2004, Xie said.

While China’s apple production has gone up and down in recent years, China’s fresh apple exports have been steadily trending higher, she said.

China’s fresh apple exports in 2003 were 609,000 metric tons, rising to 774,000 metric tons in 2004 and 824,000 metric tons in 2005, she said. For 2005, exports of fresh apples represented about 4% of that country’s crop.

China’s short 2005 apple crop — down about 15% from the record 2004 crop — boosted prices for processed apples to their highest levels in 10 years, she said.

Apple juice concentrate production of 510,000 metric tons last year was down 29% from the previous year.

The country’s apple acreage has decreased in recent years, from about 7.3 million acres in 1996 to 4.57 million acres in 2005. Still, China controls about 38% of world apple acreage, she said.

China’s apple juice processors have overbuilt their capacity, she said. Although 20% to 25% of apples are processed for juice — representing a range of about 4.2 million metric tons to about 5.2 million metric tons — she said apple juice processing capacity is 8.52 million metric tons.

Xie predicted more consolidation of apple juice processors in the years ahead, though she said recent higher prices for apple juice could result in some increase in apple acreage.