YAKIMA, Wash. — With wholesale prices of Red Delicious and Gala apples inching up but still at “unhealthy levels” and other mainstream varieties not doing much better, it’s been a “very tough year” for Washington apple growers, particularly small growers, a leading industry observer says.
“If you are a small grower with the wrong varieties, it’s a very bad year,” says Desmond O’Rourke, retired Washington State University agricultural economist in Pullman and world apple analyst.
The main reason is too many apples. Washington’s total 2017 fresh crop was estimated at 134.4 million, 40-pound boxes on June 1, down 688,000 boxes or about one-half a percent from a month ago. While 9 million less than the record 143.6 million-box crop of 2014, this year’s crop is part of a large U.S. fresh crop that had 24 percent more apples left to sell on June 1 than a year earlier.
U.S. fresh holdings on June 1 were 31.6 million boxes with Washington holding 26.8 million. Washington’s crop was 77.8 percent shipped as of June 1 versus 80.1 percent at the same time last year and 81.5 percent two years ago.
Weekly movement has slowed from 3 million boxes in mid-May to 2.2 million boxes in the first full week of June as retail competition from summer fruit increases.
Washington shippers still are 12 million boxes behind their targets, which means a substantial amount still needs to be diverted to processing for juice, sauce and baking ingredients and some Granny Smith will be carried over into the next season, said Charles Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington in Yakima.
The 12 million is probably actually much lower because industry numbers aren’t adjusted for repacking, he said.
Harvest timing of the 2018 crop looks normal, he said. If it were early it would exacerbate the carryover.
Harvest starts with Gala in August and ends with Cripps Pink and other late varieties in early November. Controlled atmosphere storage allows 13 to 14 months of sales.
Season-to-date, all Washington varieties average $22.95 per box. With Honeycrisp excluded it’s $20.53, O’Rourke said. Including renewal costs, breakeven is about $20, he said.
The eight mainstream varieties average $19.77 while proprietary varieties average $42.14, he said.
USDA tracking of Yakima and Wenatchee shippers showed Red Delicious extra fancy (standard grade) medium size 80 and 88 apples per packed box at $15 to $17 on June 11, up for the second month in a row, reflecting good exports.
Gala stayed fairly even on 80s at $18 to $25 versus $18 to $24 a month ago. Gala moved up $1 on 88s to $17 to $23 from $16 to $22 a month ago.
Golden Delicious stayed even at $20 to $26 on 80s for the third month in a row and even at $19 to $22 on 88s for the second month.
Fuji stayed even at $18 to $24 on 80s for the third month in a row and went up $1 on the high end for 88s at $16 to $21.
Granny Smith fell $5 on 80s from $24 to $30 a month ago to $19 to $25. It fell on 88s from $20 to $26 a month ago to $17 to $24.
Zeutenhorst said fruit set for Granny Smith appears to be down 20 percent for 2018 and should make room for carryover.
Honeycrisp rose around $10 to $58 to $63 on 80s and 88s, up from $48 to $56 and $46 to $54 a month ago.
New tariffs of 20 percent in Mexico, 30 percent on top of 50 percent in India and 15 percent in China on U.S. apples in retaliation for U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs don’t help exports, which have been good, O’Rourke said.