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Revised September 2021.
Apples are one of the most valuable fruit crops in the United States. The 2021 apple crop totaled just over 10.5 billion pounds, down 5 million pounds from 2019. The utilized apple crop was just over 11 billion pounds. (NASS 2021)
32 states in the United States raise apples commercially. The top ten apple producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio and Idaho (U.S. Apple Association, 2021).
While the actual origin of apples is not known, it is likely the apple tree originated between the Caspian and the Black Seas. There is proof that man has enjoyed apples for at least 750,000 years. Apples were a favorite of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Early settlers of the United States brought apple seeds with them. According to records belonging to the Massachusetts Bay Company, apples were grown in New England as early as 1630. As the United States was settled, traders, missionaries and Native Americans transported apple seeds west. John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, was responsible for extensive apple tree plantings in the Midwest.
Demand – Consumption
Apples are the most consumed fruit in the U.S., followed closely by oranges. In 2019 the average U.S. per person consumption of all forms of apples had increased to about 26.3 pounds. The per person consumption of apple juice and cider decreased to 12.6 pounds. The consumption of fresh market apples in 2019 accounted for 10 pounds (ERS, 2021). Factors contributing to increased apple and apple product consumption include new varieties, rising incomes, production expansion in the United States, a growing and more diverse population, products that better meet consumer lifestyles and increased awareness of including fruit in a healthy diet.
The United States is the second largest apple producer worldwide, behind China. U.S. production is followed by Poland, Italy and France. The United States grows approximately 200 unique apple varieties. The top 10 varieties in the U.S. are Red Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Rome, Cripps, Pink/Pink Lady and Empire (U.S. Apple Association, 2021). The United States has 5,000 plus apple producers who grow, on average, 240 million bushels of apples each year. These producers grow the apples on an approximated 322 thousand acres of land (U.S. Apple Association, 2021).
Approximately one of every three apples that is grown in the United States is exported. Top export markets, in 2014/2015, included Mexico, Canada, India, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand (U.S. Apple Association, 2021).
The United States does import fresh apples to make up for lack of production in the late season or before fall harvest. Many of these apples are imported from the Southern Hemisphere. Only five percent of the apples consumed in the United States are imported (U.S. Apple Association, 2021).
The United States faces increasing competition from foreign producers of apples, including Chile, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, the European Union and eastern European countries. Foreign competition affects the market price and sale of apples in the United States. The development of apple cultivars for new and traditional markets has contributed to much of the industry’s growth and economic viability. That is why it is important for the U.S. apple industry to continue the rapid deployment of new, viable apple cultivars. Apples face increased competition from imports of other fruits, such as grapes, peaches, nectarines and plums from Chile. More choices for consumers in supermarkets have led to greater competition for domestically produced fruits.
Overview of Certified Organic
Organic production is defined as an ecological production system that integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster resource cycling, ecological balance, and biodiversity. USDA organic standards prohibit many inputs and methods that are commonly used in agriculture. In 2002, the USDA implemented national organic standards and required that all farmers and processors with over $5,000 in annual sales of products labeled as organic must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier. Certifying agents review farm applications and qualified inspectors conduct annual on-site inspections. Farm records track all management practices and materials used in organic production and organic farms must have a written “organic farm plan” made available to the public upon request.
While U.S. acreage and production of apples has declined in recent years, consumer demand has spurred a fast-growing organic apple sector. Apples managed under certified organic farming systems now account for about 7 percent of total U.S. apple acreage. While conventional apple yields tend to be higher than organic yields, organic apples commanded a price premium at every level—farm-gate, wholesale and retail—of the supply chain. Despite the drop in total apple production over the last decade, the U.S. apple sector has seen fast-growing demand for new varieties of apples and for organically produced apples that garner price premiums.
Fresh produce is the largest category of organic food sales and organic apples are one of the top three fresh fruits purchased by consumers of organic foods. (Nutrition Business Journal, 2010).
Ninety percent of the organic apples produced in 2014 were sold for fresh market. In general, U.S. apple producers sell their higher-quality apples for fresh- market consumption at higher prices and sell their lower-quality apples to processors at lower prices. Many apple producers, however, especially in Eastern and Midwestern States, target markets for applesauce, juice, cider, and other processed apple products, including pre-sliced apples.
According to the 2019 USDA Certified Organic Summary, an estimated 657 farms in the United States produced 831 million pounds of certified organic apples in 2019 with a sales value of $451.2 million. Washington state continues to be the largest producer of organic apples, producing 806 million pounds, with an estimated crop valued of $433 million. The three varieties with the greatest volume of production for the organic market are, in order, Gala, Fuji, and Honeycrisp.
The retail prices for fresh organic apples was, on average, 40 percent high than for conventional fresh apples.
U-Pick is often used to describe a farm where customers come to the farm to harvest the crop. Customer harvesting is a popular alternative for crops that are easily identified as ripe by the color or size and are harvested in a concentrated period of time. Americans go to U-picks not just because the prices are often less than retail, but because they consider it recreational and enjoy the farm setting and picking their own food. Families seem to be the majority of U-pick customers as parents provide their children with a unique on-farm experience.
From a grower’s perspective, pick-your-own apple operation replace one labor-intensive task-- harvesting, with another -- managing on-farm visitors. By allowing consumers to pick produce for themselves, less labor is required for harvesting and tasks such as grading, storing, packing, and delivery. However, inviting customers onto the farm also requires a higher liability insurance policy.
Not all orchards lend themselves to this type of enterprise. Location and appearance are important as the production site must be inviting and convenient. Typically, the most successful U-picks are located near populated areas. Easy road access and a good parking area are essential. Work hours must be extended to accommodate demand at high traffic times which often fall on evenings and weekends.
Whether or not school groups are included, education is another component of a pick-your-own operation. It need not be formalized but all workers who come in contact with the public should be prepared to answer questions.
Repeat customers will learn to request particular varieties. Educate potential regulars by allowing them to sample different varieties. It’s important to advertise regularly through both local media and the Internet. Promote your location and the on-farm experience. Emphasize the qualitative difference of freshly picked produce and price it accordingly.
By using uniform containers, produce may be sold by weight. If customers bring their own containers, the containers have to be weighed before harvesting. Another option is pricing by each item. This works well for school groups.
Market Report Generator, Iowa State University Extension.
Economic Research Service (ERS), 2015
E-stats, U.S. Census Bureau.
MarketMaker. This online service in 20 states brings sellers and buyers together. It is a free online service for producers to market their products. Consumers can find farm products and sales methods, such as U-pick operations.
National Organic Program. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
National Retail Report – Specialty Crops. Issued weekly by the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service.
2014 Summary Organic Survey. USDA Census of Agriculture.
Pick-Your-Own (U-Pick) Marketing. 2014 rev. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Pick-Your-Own (U-pick) Marketing. 2014 rev. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.