Tom Karst, National Editor
Tom Karst, National Editor

ANAHEIM, Calif. — How many PMA shows have you been to, Tom?

Ha ha. Too many to count. For real.

I’ve enjoyed many iterations of the PMA and United Fresh conventions in the same way, through the sometimes weary eyes of a Packer reporter.

This year, as the expo was about to open, I was already flexing my sore back as I lugged my computer satchel in the exhibit hall.

One produce veteran I know from way back admonished me. “You can’t be tired now before the show starts. Fake it if you have to!”

Advice received and followed.

From 1985, when Fresh Summit was in San Francisco, to Anaheim this year — and most years in between — I have been there. That’s a lot of avocado bags collected and business cards amassed.

Speaking of California avocados, I had the chance to enjoy a nice dinner at the ParkAve restaurant in Orange County with Jan DeLyser, Tom Bellamore, other California Avocado Commission staff and several California avocado growers and buyers on Saturday night. That was very enjoyable and I heard the passion for California avocados.

PMA will continue to roll on, some day without me and perhaps even sans Bryan Silbermann. But not anytime soon on either count, most likely. And Fresh Summit will always have avocado bags to distribute, we can hope.

It seems that sustainability issues are again rising to the forefront of industry discussions at Fresh Summit and other venues. With megaretailer Wal-Mart still very much engaged on the issue, that trend may continue.

I’m curious as to the amount of buy-in for measuring sustainability there is in the fresh produce growing community, especially relative to use of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops — and how that data may be useful for Wal-Mart and others.

As I understand it, Wal-Mart’s grand plan is to eventually grade its buyers in part by how their produce suppliers meet sustainability goals. That is a brave new world the industry is not yet ready for.


In “Get Smart” fashion, apple forecasters missed their mark “by that much.” Would you believe ...

The early crop estimate for Washington fresh shipments was 108.8 million cartons. That will be too low.

With the state recording its first-ever 3 million carton shipment week in October, the USDA reports season to date shipments of Washington apples were 10,571 (40,000-pound) truckloads through Oct. 27, up from 8,698 truckloads at the same time a year ago.

In contrast, shipments of apples from Michigan totaled only 569 truckloads, down from 2,432 truckloads at the same time a year ago.

With the flush of fruit from harvest, the latest Agricultural Prices report shows that apple prices have backed down slightly in October.

The grower price for fresh apples was projected by the USDA at 53.5 cents per pound in October, down from 61.6 cents per pound in September but still way up from 43.1 cents per pound last October.

Speaking to one apple shipper at Fresh Summit, he said there has been some pricing pressure because the crop was larger than people were prepared for.

That pricing pressure is expected to stabilize by Christmas and then potentially strengthen after that.

The fruit size is two to three sizes larger than normal, with some estimates putting the total crop from 118 million cartons on the low end to as large as 130 million cartons of apples if all the fruit can be harvested.

The shipper said a shortage of bins in the industry was evident early in the harvest season, but an incredible amount of bins have been built in response to demand, in addition to some construction of controlled atmosphere storages during the summer.

Another source in Washington I talked with Nov. 1 agreed the first estimate was low, but it may have only missed the mark by a few million cartons, with some now predicting a crop of 110 million to 115 million cartons.

The revised November estimate should provide illumination.

By then, we will know if the industry missed it by that much, or perhaps much more.

Whatever the estimate, all additional apples will be utilized because of the dearth of apples in Michigan and the East.