U.S. apple industry: Producing more with less

We’ve talked before about how apple consumption has been flat to declining in recent years, but did you know that overall apple bearing acreage of apples has been falling as well?

Bearing acreage refers to the amount of land used to produce apples, and as you can see from the graph below, there has been a significant decline over the past decade. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 2000 and 2010, bearing acreage decreased by nearly 100,000 acres to a total of ~346,000 acres – more than a 20% drop! This is particularly notable when considering that during the prior twenty years, bearing acreage never dropped below 412,200 acres.US Bearing Acreage Graph - Apples

The disappointing decline in apple consumption is a major contributor to this trend; consumption decreased around 12% from 2000 to 2010. But what explains the remaining 8% gap? The ability to produce more with less!

With constant advances in apple production efficiency, including crop protection strategies and better use of suitable rootstock (which essentially all commercial apple trees are grafted onto), growers can produce more apples on less land. Pete Van Well, a nursery owner from North America’s biggest apple-growing region, Washington State, explains that “where orchardists used to plant a few hundred trees per acre, they now plant thousands of trees per acre.”

Clearly, this progress offers greater value to growers, but there’s a limit to how many trees can be grown per acre. So, further increases to yields must now come from other avenues, and biotechnology can help.

OSF is currently working on disease-resistant apples, which would not only lower the amount of apples lost each harvest, but as with other biotech crops, they can also reduce pesticide use. These traits are still years away, but our nonbrowning Arctic® apples are much closer than that!

Arctic® apples can reduce crop losses from the grower all the way to the consumer, so they help further the trend of doing more with less. Plus, this increased efficiency doesn’t just help out apple producers and consumers; it also helps save valuable resources such as water usage and reduces unnecessary food waste throughout the supply chain. Oh, and nonbrowning apples can also address the decline in consumption as well!

Anyone who’s studied of the history of agriculture knows there’s been a long series of innovations transitioning the U.S. population from about 90% farmers 200 years ago to just 2-3% today. And, to continue feeding more people using less land and resources, innovations such as the ones biotechnology can offer are essential!

About Joel Brooks

Growing up in the Okanagan, Joel had the opportunity to experience apple growing first hand, a background that lead him to his role as Product & Special Projects Manager. Joel feels privileged to work with such great people towards a goal that’s so easy to get behind – helping people to eat more apples.

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