Who Loves Apples the Most (Other than Isaac Newton)?
This article was written by UC Davis ARE PhD students Yao Ma and Zhiran Qin. It is the fifth of six excellent articles written by students in my ARE 231 class this fall.
As one of the most nutritious and storable fruits, apples are the most consumed fruit in both the USA and China. Back in the early 17th century, apples were brought from Central Asia to America and East Asia by European colonists and travelers. Its cultivation expanded to five continents in the following centuries.
Global apple production has quadrupled in the past 60 years from 20 to over 80 million tons. Much of this explosion is due to the rapid development of the apple industry in China, which has increased production by a factor of 10 since 1990. The magical thing is that the huge production increase in China is almost fully covered by synchronously-growing domestic demand; less than 3% of its production was exported in 2021.
Global production of apples for 2021/22 is around 81.6 million tons, half of which are produced in China. The top five apple-producing countries following China are the USA, Turkey, India, Iran, and Russia. If the EU countries were taken as a whole, its production would come second.
There are now over 7,000 varieties of apples globally. In Whole Foods or Safeway stateside, we usually see Red Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, or Fuji which are the top 4 in terms of both production and consumption. In contrast, Fuji is the dominant variety with the largest planting area in China, accounting for 70% of its national production.
Fuji’s popularity in both China and the US stems from its large size, outstanding sweetness and crispness, and storability. Fuji apples can keep fresh for nearly 4 months at room temperature and 5 to 7 months in the refrigerator. With the backing of China's huge market share in the global apple industry, Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange officially listed apple futures as the world's first listed fresh fruit futures on December 22, 2017. The apple futures delivery is first-class and above-quality red Fuji apple.
Why did apple demand and supply in China grow so rapidly over the past 30 years?
From the demand side, rising public awareness of nutrition and health increased fruit consumption along with the surge in income. Because apples are relatively cheap, easy to store, and possibly can “keep the doctor away”, the Chinese government has been promoting the benefits of apples to the masses since the late 20th century.
Coincidentally, the climatic conditions of several poor provinces in central China (such as Shaanxi in the figure below) are very suitable for apple production. Farmers enjoy juicy and crunchy apple harvests with a large temperature difference between morning and evening and perfect latitude and humidity levels. In addition, the local government is interested in poverty alleviation and economic development. To encourage the development of the apple industry, the government subsidizes each poor household who grow apples in Central China by more than 1,000 yuan each year, thereby helping them achieve independent profits.
On the other side of the Pacific, the United States contributes to 5.6% of worldwide apple production as the second largest producer. The leading states are Washington, California, Michigan and New York. Of course, we don’t take Steve Jobs’ Apple into account:) Most American apples are sold as fresh products (about 68.2% in 2010/11), while others are canned, frozen, dried, or crushed into juice.
Even though China produces multiple times more apples than the United States, there is little difference in the import and export volume between the two in recent years. In addition to being the largest producer of apples, China is also the world's largest exporter, followed by the United States. Both of them are net exporters, exporting 6 to 7 times as much as imports in the past 20 years.
We have all heard the story that Isaac Newton formulated the theory of gravity after watching an apple fall and asking why the apple fell straight down. As global apple consumption boomed in the past decades, we can't help but wonder if there will be more Newtons in the world. At least, now we have another reason to be optimistic about that.