YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington’s apple crop size and prices appeared stable a month ago but since then have fallen and, some say, likely will fall more.
The 2017 fresh crop was estimated at 138 million, 40-pound boxes on Feb. 1, down 3 percent from 142.3 million a month earlier, said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association in Yakima.
Packouts are down as more fruit is diverted to processing for juice, sauce and baked ingredients or culled, he and others said.
“I expected it to come sooner. Diversion is helpful. Right now, this is just an apple market (OK but not great). It’s just a lot of small fruit,” said Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington, in Yakima.
“This is our second-largest crop. We can afford to have it go down and still have adequate supply and focus on bringing our best quality to market,” DeVaney said.
Asking prices reported by USDA fell $2 to $4 per box on medium-size (80 and 88 apples per box) Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious while increasing $1 to $2 on Gala.
“I think they’re still sliding a little bit,” Zeutenhorst said.
Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing, in Chelan, said he thinks the crop will continue to shrink due to splits and water core in some varieties and too much small fruit.
“Sometimes there’s only so much room in the worldwide marketplace for real small apples, so not all will make it into a box,” Riggan said.
Large and medium fruit sell heaviest first, and as their supplies dwindle, their prices will increase, but overall prices are less than last season, he said.
As of Feb. 9, USDA tracking of average asking prices among Yakima and Wenatchee shippers for extra fancy (standard grade) medium size 80 and 88 apples per packed box: $13 to $15 for Red Delicious, down $1 on the low end and $2 on the high end since Jan. 5.
Gala 80s were $20 to $24, up $2 on the low end and unchanged on the high. Gala 88s were $17 to $22, up $1 on the low end and also unchanged on the high.
Honeycrisp premium 80s were $58 to $64, up from $46 to $54 a month ago. Honeycrisp premium 88s were $56 to $62, up from $44 to $52 a month ago.
Of the 4.3-millon-box crop shrinkage, 1 million were Fuji, 984,000 were Red Delicious, 953,000 were Granny Smith, 840,000 were Gala, 361,000 were Ambrosia and 245,000 were Honeycrisp, Riggan said.
As of Feb. 1, 54.7 million boxes had been sold compared to 58.9 million a year ago. “It’s a bit behind but we are making headway,” Riggan said.
Exports have improved in the past month to 17 million boxes, season-to-date, up 5 percent from a year ago, said Bryan Peebles, Chelan Fresh Marketing export sales manager.
Mexico is up 5 percent over last year while Canada is down more than 10 percent, partly because of smaller fruit size, Peebles said.
India likes small Reds and is up more than 30 percent at 1.8 million boxes while China is down almost 30 percent at less than 800,000 boxes, he said.
Sales to the Middle East and Latin America are strong, he said.
“As long as quality stays stable, we will be able to move apples into Mexico and India. Southern Hemisphere Gala starts packing this week and that will impact world markets,” Peebles said.
U.S. Apple Association reported national fresh holdings of 95.6 million boxes on Feb. 1, up 12 percent from a year earlier. Processing holdings totaled 38.6 million boxes, up 10 percent.
The industry has a lot of apples remaining to sell, and one concern is having a large late crop followed by an early one brought on by a mild winter and possibly early spring.
“You don’t want to have to sell a year’s worth of fruit in 11 months,” DeVaney said.