July 19, 2008

Fuel Costs Drive Up State’s Apple Prices


Nothing beats a nice, crisp apple as a tasty, portable and nutritious food - but even apples can't beat the soaring cost of fuel and other farm costs.

Arizona prices for red delicious apples in the second quarter were up 15 percent from the second quarter of 2007, says the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.

The farm bureau surveys 16 standard items for its quarterly surveys.

Apples are one of eight items that increased in statewide price this last quarter compared with the first quarter and one of 14 items that increased in national price compared with the first quarter.

Compared with the same period last year, apples are one of 10 items whose statewide price is up, while nationally they are one of 12 items whose prices are up.

Even so, apple prices tend to be "fairly consistent" and don't fluctuate as much as some commodities, Arizona Farm Bureau spokeswoman Julie Murphree said.

And as a lunchtime staple, apples may fall from trees but they won't fall off most folks' shopping lists.

"As a fruit and as a staple they're easily transportable and common to pop in your child's lunch pack - they're just a really good, nutritious fruit," Murphree said.

But you'll need to shop a bit to find the best apple prices. Only one major grocer featured apples as a sale item in newspaper ads this week.

Higher energy costs, including gasoline, diesel and natural gas, are the dominant force driving higher food costs, the Farm Bureau says.

Apple growers like Lance Eggers of Briggs & Eggers Orchards near Willcox are seeing their costs rise faster than store prices.

"Farmers are price takers, not price makers," said Eggers, who is president of the Arizona Apple Growers Association.

"Obviously, the farmer doesn't get all the increase the people see in the store."

Eggers said his apples, like the peaches and pears he grows, fetch a premium price because they are "100 percent certified organic," and the price gap with non-organic produce has been narrowing.

While organic crops don't bear some of the costs of crops grown with chemical help, rising labor costs hit organics hard because of the hand work involved, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. and local growers also compete with fruit from such far-flung places as New Zealand and Chile.

"We're trying to kind of get the word out that we need an increase to stay in business - these high costs are hard on the farmer," Eggers said.

The organic and local-foods movements have helped growers like Eggers, whose fruit is distributed through some local natural-foods stores under the New Harvest brand.

But if you're headed toward Willcox in the near future or don't mind the extra gas for a fun road trip, you can visit some of the farms around there, like Briggs & Eggers or Apple Annie's, which features you-pick-'em orchards, and you can get some very good prices, indeed.

Eggers said he sells his apples at his on-site fruit stand at wholesale, while farms like Apple Annie's offer pick-your-own fruit. The Southern Arizona apple harvest starts in August.


Red delicious apples, per pound

Period State National

Fourth quarter 2006 $0.89 $1.36

First quarter 2007 $0.99 $1.30

Second quarter 2007 $1.49 $1.45

Third quarter 2007 $1.49 $1.49

Fourth quarter 2007 $1.76 $1.27

First quarter 2008 $1.62 $1.40

Second quarter 2008 $1.72 $1.54

Source: Arizona Farm Bureau Federation


* Albertsons: Washington-grown red delicious apples, large, $1.69/lb.

* Star reporter Shelley Shelton and assistant business editor David Wichner contributed to this report.

Originally published by ARIZONA DAILY STAR.

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