WENATCHEE, Wash. — The 2018 Washington apple crop is now estimated to be significantly smaller than it was two months ago, which should bode well for sales and pricing in the months ahead.
The Oct. 1 estimate, released Oct. 5 by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, is for 116.9 million, 40-pound boxes of fresh crop from this fall’s harvest, down 10.8 percent from the 131-million-box forecast of Aug. 1.
“The industry uses historical information to help with the forecasts and 2012, 2014 and 2016 were all relatively large crops,” said Sean Gilbert, co-owner of Gilbert Orchards in Yakima.
It stood to reason that the 2017 crop would be small like the 2013 and 2015 crops of 115 million boxes each. However, the 2017 crop stayed large at 131.7 million and the smaller crop is coming this year.
The large crops had good fruit set from warm weather at bloom and pollination, but this year it was much cooler during bloom and pollination, Gilbert said.
Growers noticed a lighter set after bloom but didn’t realize how much lighter until picking started in August, he said.
Harvest is virtually done for Gala, Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp with Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Cripps Pink as the main varieties remaining, said Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan.
“We have better color overall than last year, sizes are larger and more conducive to retail and we have perfect fall weather so starch and sugars are ideal for longterm storage and good consistent quality,” Riggan said.
The smaller crop means pricing will soon improve for growers and there will be less pressure to move lots of fruit at the front end of the season, he said.
“It looks like a very manageable crop year,” Riggan said. “Yes, hopefully better pricing and returns than last year.”
As of Oct. 5, the average asking price among Yakima and Wenatchee district shippers for extra fancy (standard grade), medium size 80 apples per box for new crop Gala was $18 to $24 compared with $24 to $28 a year ago, according to USDA. Break-even is generally $17 to $20.
Gala 88s were $18 to $22 compared with $22 to $26 a year ago. Granny Smith was $20 to $24 for 80s and 88s compared with $40 to $46 a year ago.
Red Delicious was $17 to $18 for 80s and 88s compared with $14 to $16 a year ago. Golden Delicious was $22 to $26 for 80s and 88s compared with $30 to $34 a year ago.
Honeycrisp was $65 to $70.90 for premium 80s and 88s compared with $65 to $75 a year ago.
Pricing is expected to improve as the last stocks of the 2017 crop sell out, said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
But while the crop is now estimated 11 percent smaller than last year, early movement is up 20 percent — 8.8 million boxes shipped as of Oct. 7 versus 7.3 million a year ago, DeVaney said.
Shippers apparently pushed second-pick Gala and Honeycrisp that suffered from heat and was at higher risk of bitter pit decay and therefore suspect for long storage. Several of them talked about that at a Sept. 20 Washington Apple Commission meeting. Riggan said he thinks most of that is through the system and that higher quality first-pick was put into longer storage. The Oct. 1 estimates show all but Honeycrisp down in volume. Millions of boxes and percentage change from 2017: Gala, 29.9, -3 percent; Red Delicious, 24.5, -25 percent; Fuji, 15, -10.3 percent; Honeycrisp, 13.7 million boxes, +19.7 percent; Granny Smith, 13.7 million boxes, -23 percent; others, 6.6 million boxes, -4.1 percent; Golden Delicious, 5.9 million boxes, -13 percent; Cripps Pink, 4.8 million boxes, -6.6 percent; Ambrosia, 1.3 million boxes, -18.5 percent.