WENATCHEE, Wash. — After two months of sliding, wholesale prices of Washington apples stabilized in March, but an analyst warns that they could slide again in April.
It’s due to a very large 2017 fresh crop that shrank another 311,000, 40-pound boxes through March as diversions to processing for juice and sauce slowed. The total crop was 135.3 million boxes with 79.7 million sold as of April 1. Shippers worry Chinese tariffs could slow sales to China and further pressure prices.
“April can be a rough month. Retailers are under a lot of price pressure with Amazon coming into the food business,” said Desmond O’Rourke, retired Washington State University agricultural economist and world apple analyst.
“Retailers could pick on apples as a product they want lower prices for. Nobody knows what Amazon will do so retailers are trying to be proactive and get prices down in case Amazon buys Target or Toys R Us,” O’Rourke said.
Amazon acquired 450 stores when it bought Whole Foods and might want more, he said.
It won’t help if apple exports to China are disrupted, he said. A 15 percent tariff on top of a 10 percent existing duty won’t be final for another 60 days, he said.
China has been running a trade war with the U.S. for 30 years by keeping most U.S. agricultural exports out and stealing intellectual properties, O’Rourke said. President Donald Trump has correctly identified China as an unfair trader but U.S. exporters will be unhappy if they don’t look longterm and China could stall trade negotiations to see if Republicans lose November elections, he said.
As of April 6, 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 were: $12 to $15 for Red Delicious, the same as a month ago. Gala also stayed even at $18 to $24 for 80s and $16 to $22 for 88s. Fuji stayed even at $18 to $24 on 80s and $16 to $22 on 88s.
Golden Delicious stayed even on 80s at $20 to $26 and dropped $1 per box on 88s from $20 to $24 down to $19 to $23.
Honeycrisp stayed even on 80s at $45 to $52 and dropped slightly on 88s from $45 to $52 down to $44 to $50.
Granny Smith fell $4 per box on the low and high ends of 80s and 88s, from $28 to $34 on 80s down to $24 to $30 and from $26 to $32 on 88s down to $22 to $28. The drop was due to a large Granny Smith crop, O’Rourke said.
Average wholesale price of main varieties remained at $24 per box and at $21.50 without Honeycrisp, he said. Breakeven averages about $20 per box with $12 for packing and marketing and $8 to the grower, he said.
A lot of smaller fruit will not breakeven, he said.
Exports are up 8.3 percent over last year with 26.6 million boxes exported so far. That’s very good since the 2017 crop was later than the 2016 crop and it’s helped by a weaker dollar than a year ago and by Mexico and India liking small fruit, he said.
“If they can get through April without any further slippage in price, they’ll be in good shape,” O’Rourke said. “Chances are 70-30 to the good. Some worry the 2018 crop will be early which will cause a squeeze.”