World Apple & Pear Association (WAPA) secretary Philippe Binard said he was confident that this year's European apple crop, at 9.97 million tonnes, combined with no southern-hemisphere crop overhang and EU stocks from last year cleared, bodes well for a strong, balanced apple market.
With the smallest EU pear crop for years (2.16 million tonnes), WAPA's Federic Rosseneu predicted that those growers with a crop can expect substantially higher prices - early pear prices are already 25 per cent higher than last year.
The 32nd Prognosfruit conference, this year hosted by the UK and organised by English Apples & Pears, saw delegates from 17 countries gather at Ashford to hear the latest figures and discuss major issues facing European top fruit growers and marketers.
After the very favourable season for apple prices of 2007/08, when a sharp drop in eastern European production due to bad weather meant that the European crop was well below average, this year's crop is 14 per cent up on last year and four per cent higher than the average for the past three seasons.
Frosts and poor weather during pollination across most of Europe have had some effect on apple yields but the spring frosts are the main reason for the low pear crop, although return bud was weaker in some areas, such as Belgian and Dutch orchards, due to bumper crops in 2007. More southerly orchards were unaffected and eastern European crop forecasts have returned to normal levels.
The start of the apple harvest in 2008 is predicted to be back to normal - five to 10 days later than last year's early start. Early price predictions are favourable, with the provisos of the greater eastern European crop and uncertainties over processing prices this year, plus the effects of the growing Russian export market.
Russia has become an increasingly important market for EU apple and pears, with exports doubling over the past seven years, and this trend should continue. However, Russian stipulations on safety rules such as plant health and maximum residue levels are growing, and are the subject of ongoing bilateral negotiations due to be completed in September. Belgian and Dutch exports to Russia are particularly high and have certainly diverted pressure on the UK market, which had resulted in strong competition for English growers in the 1990s.