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Forecast pushes Red Delicious out of top volume spot

After 83 years as No. 1 in volume, Red Delicious is expected to fall to Gala in the Washington apple harvest now starting. Honeycrisp and organics continue upward. Tariffs cause export worries.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on August 8, 2018 9:03AM

Apples in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard on Aug. 6, several weeks out from harvest. This year’s forecast volume — 131 million, 40-pound boxes — is close to last’s.

Dan Wheat/Capital Press

Apples in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard on Aug. 6, several weeks out from harvest. This year’s forecast volume — 131 million, 40-pound boxes — is close to last’s.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Red Delicious, Washington’s top apple in volume for 83 years, is predicted to fall to second place behind Gala in the 2018 harvest.

Honeycrisp is expected to keep increasing and organics make a big jump in the 2018 crop forecast compiled Aug. 1 and released Aug. 7 by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

The fresh, versus processing, crop is estimated at 131 million, 40-pound boxes, down 2 percent from the 2017 crop expected to finish sales in the next two months at 134 million. The record was 143.6 million in 2014.

Red Delicious is forecast at 28.3 million boxes down 14.7 percent from the 33.2 million of 2017. Gala is expected to be 31.7 million, up 3.3 percent from 30.7 million.

“It’s two weaker varieties passing each other. The scuttlebutt on Gala is not positive. It’s like 10 years ago when Reds were being talked down,” said Desmond O’Rourke, world apple market analyst and retired Washington State University agricultural economist.

Marketers have been desiring fewer Reds for years and more proprietary varieties in small volumes for better returns. However, the down side to a big Reds decline is that it’s a big part of exports, O’Rourke said.

“That’s almost a 5-million-box drop in Reds. It will drive up prices and then with the tariffs, it could be a mess,” he said.

How badly an anticipated 20 percent tariff in Mexico and 50 percent tariff in China affect those markets in the coming season is a big concern, he said.

Exports have been good, particularly in India, where 8 million boxes of Washington apples have sold this season compared to 4.7 million the year before, he said. That was caused by India banning Chinese apples, he said. Mexico has been good at 12.2 million. Total exports are 41.5 million for the season ending, up 4 million and 31 percent of the crop.

Reds averaged $16 per box over the last year, very marginal for profits and Gala was also marginal at $20 to $21, he said.

Honeycrisp averaged $50 which is good but not as good as a few years ago as it increases in volume.

“The golden egg is losing some of its gold,” O’Rourke said.

Honeycrisp was forecast at 10.5 million boxes at this time last year. It will finish the year at 11.5 million and is forecast at 14.15 million for the new harvest.

The average of all varieties was $20.71 per box in the first week of May and now is $22.71, a nice increase as volume declines, he said.

About 12.4 million boxes of the 2017 crop remained to be sold in the next two months. That’s easily doable at 2 million boxes per week, he said. But there probably won’t be much uptick in prices at the start of new crop sales, he said. Heavy volumes of Honeycrisp and Gala, the first varieties harvested, will “keep a lid on prices,” he said.

Harvest began July 25 with early strains of Gala in Wallula, north of Walla Walla, and Gala harvest will increase in earnest next week, said Charles Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington in Yakima.

Harvest usually finishes in early November.

Organics are expected to be 14 percent of the total crop or 18.9 million boxes. That’s a “substantial increase and we struggle with huge increases” if it can’t all be sold in the retail market, he said.

Zeutenhorst said he thinks the crop is larger than 131 million boxes and would be even 3 to 5 percent larger yet without rampant fireblight this spring.

The tree-killing disease is acerbated by extreme heat followed quickly by rain during bloom.

“It’s been a horrible, horrible year for fireblight. Orchards have been massively cut back and down,” Zeutenhorst said. Limbs and whole trees are cut to stop its spread.

After three years of fruit sizes too large or small creating marketing challenges, this year’s crop looks to be of normal fruit size, he said.

Large New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania crops will compete domestically in October, but prices should hold better because of better quality this year, Zeutenhorst said.

“Cherries are a bit of an indicator and we had a solid cherry year with sustained good quality,” he said. “We think apples will follow suit.”


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