Apricots are native to parts of Asia. They are hugely popular in Middle Eastern countries, with Turkey and Iran being the world’s largest producers of the fruit. Spanish missionaries are credited with introducing the apricot to California, which is the leading state of apricot production within the United States. Plums and apricots are genetically very similar and thus can hybridize making pluots (75 percent plum, 25 percent apricot), plumcots (50 percent plum, 50 percent apricot), and apriums (75 percent apricot, 25 percent plum) (University of Illinois – Extension, 2010).
Today, nearly 85 percent of the apricots grown in the United States come from California. The remainder largely comes from Washington, with less than 1 percent from Utah.
Total U.S. apricot production was 64,900 tons in 2014 with a value of $53 million. The tonnage was up 6 percent from the previous two years. The value of fresh apricots was $35 million, while the value of processed apricots was $18 million (NASS, 2015).
The most recent data reports that in 2012 per capita consumption of fresh apricots was 0.10 pounds. For the 2012-13 year, dried apricot consumption was 0.11 pounds, canned apricot consumption was 0.16 pounds, and frozen apricot consumption was 0.04 pounds (ERS 2014).
Apricots primarily mature in early summer, making them one of the earliest available summer fruits. The marketing season for apricots is from May 15 to July 5 for California; June 10 to August 15 for Utah; and June 20 to August 1 for Washington, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Currently, about 40 percent of U.S. apricot production is sold fresh and commands a price almost three times higher per ton. The remaining 60 percent is destined for the processing sector (NASS, 2015).
Although fresh apricots demand a higher price, they also demand more finesse during harvesting. Apricots are very delicate; therefore apricots destined for the fresh market must be picked by hand and when still firm. A common way to add value to fresh market apricots is to plant varieties that will ripen over an extended period of time. This allows the farmer to reduce peak labor demands (University of California – Extension, 2012) (University of Illinois – Extension, 2010).
Some varieties of apricots such as Blenheim cannot be shipped fresh because they are so delicate. Selling these types of apricots locally at farmers’ markets or processing them are ways to add value. Processed apricots are mainly dried, canned, frozen or made into jams and jellies (Apricot Kings Orchards, 2015).
An article titled Farmers get a taste of the possibilities of value-added farm products, written by Pamela Kan-Rice, explains how there are plenty of companies offering co-packing services for farmers wanting to add value to their produce. Farmers often have great ideas for value-added products, but don’t have the time, necessary machinery or know-how to transform their produce into a new product. Companies that offer co-packing services help farmers achieve these goals. Utilizing co-packing services is also a great option when farmers have an excess of produce that will perish quickly if not processed (Agriculture and Natural Resources – University of California, 2014).
The number of U.S. apricot farms totaled 2,305 in 2012, a decrease of about 27 percent from 2007. The total number of acres planted to apricots also decreased by about 6 percent over the same period to 12,863 in 2012. (USDA, 2012). By 2014, the bearing acreage for apricot was 10,820 acres, which has remained relatively unchanged for the last two years. The yield has varied slightly, from 5.36 tons per acre in 2012 to 6.00 tons in 2014 (NASS, 2015).
In 2014, market prices for fresh apricots were $1,360 per ton and processed apricot prices were $462 per ton (NASS, 2015).
In 2014, U.S. fresh apricot exports were valued at $14.5 million at a volume of 15.1 million pounds. Dried apricots were valued at nearly $3.6 million, with a volume of 1.1 million pounds, and prepared or preserved apricots were valued at $1.1 million, with a volume of 1.6 million pounds (ERS, 2015).
Canada continued to be the largest export market for fresh apricots in 2014, purchasing fresh apricots valued at nearly $10.5 million. Mexico followed at $3 million. In 2013-14, Japan was the largest importer of U.S. dried apricots, buying dried apricots valued at nearly $1.8 million. Canada followed with $489,000 in imports. Canada and Mexico were the largest markets for prepared apricots (ERS, 2015).
In 2014, the United States imported nearly 36.2 million pounds of dried apricots valued at $51.5 million were. Turkey supplied 97.2 percent of the dried apricots. Nearly 11.8 million pounds of prepared or preserved apricots were imported valued at $9.1 million. Nearly half the imported prepared or preserved apricots came from China, followed by France, Canada and Egypt. Fresh apricot imports totaled 1.2 million pounds valued at $1.7 million. Nearly 77 percent of fresh apricots were imported from Chile, followed by Canada and New Zealand (ERS, 2015).
Like most stone fruits, apricots thrive in a Mediterranean climate, needing a warm and dry growing season, but plenty of irrigation. All stone fruits depend on a considerable amount of high quality water for successful production and desirable fruit size. Stone fruits are not tolerant of high salinity levels or toxic elements, including boron chloride and sodium. Both water availability and quality must be determined before establishing any orchard. Drip and flood irrigation are the two most commonly used irrigation methods for apricots. Planting apricot trees on berms is recommended if using flood irrigation. Apricots also require a decent amount of chilling hours (700 to 1,000 hours at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit) to induce flowering (University of California – Extension, 2012).