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Apples top Washington crop, but varieties in ‘turmoil’

Apples led Washington’s agricultural production for the 12th year in a row in 2016 with $2.39 billion of the state’s total $10.6 billion in farmgate value. But there’s a lot of “turmoil” in value among apple varieties, an economist says.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on October 19, 2017 9:11AM

Last changed on October 19, 2017 3:27PM

OLYMPIA — Agricultural production in Washington dropped 1 percent to $10.6 billion in 2016 with apples as the top value commodity for the 12th year in a row, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Apples represented 22 percent of the total agricultural value at $2.39 billion, up 3 percent from 2015 but down 4 percent from the record high of $2.48 billion in 2012.

Those numbers belie the “terrific turmoil going on within the different varieties” in the industry, said Desmond O’Rourke, retired Washington State University agricultural economist and apple analyst in Pullman.

Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Cripps Pink and Gala, along with about a dozen proprietary varieties, are carrying the industry while Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Jonagold and Cameo tend to generate losses for growers but usually not for packing houses, O’Rourke said.

The proprietary, club or managed varieties are controlled by individual companies and are not open to all growers. Established club varieties including Jazz, Envy, Pacific Rose, Ambrosia, Kanzi, Kiku, Autumn Glory, Lady Alice, Pinata, Rave, Koru, Smitten and Opal each range from 50,000 to 2 million, 40-pound boxes annually in volume and are doing well while others are coming along, O’Rourke said.

“Honeycrisp is durable. No one figured it would get to 10 million boxes and still be selling at the price its selling,” he said.

Honeycrisp is estimated at 12.4 million boxes for 2017 and usually sells at $50 to $60 per box.

The industry is hopeful the new Cosmic Crisp apple will be a big money maker as it becomes established in 2020 and beyond.

The Oct. 13 report from the NASS Northwest regional office in Olympia lists milk in second place, after apples, at $1.1 billion, down 3 percent from 2015 and at its lowest value since 2010.

Potatoes moved up 5 percent and one place to third at a record high $813 million. Cattle and calves, valued at $704 million, fell one spot to fourth, down 17 percent.

Wheat completed the top five commodities at $657 million, up 9 percent.

The top five had a combined value of $5.68 billion, 53 percent of the total.

“The grain industry is still depressed because of global oversupply. So wheat growers are lucky to break even and I’m sure some of them aren’t,” O’Rourke said.

Livestock is also struggling in terms of prices, he said.

“The real strength of Washington agriculture is in high-value crops like hops, grapes, potatoes and cherries. Lentils and beans are on the upswing and berries continue to expand,” O’Rourke said.

Beside potatoes, hops and grapes reached record highs. Hops at $382 million, up 36 percent and grapes at $359 million, up 25 percent.

Other commodities outside the top 10 showed significant increases. Corn for grain production rose 43 percent to $98.9 million. Dry edible beans increased 78 percent to $82.6 million and lentils went up 54 percent to $26.6 million.

Four of the top 10 commodities declined in value from the previous year, including milk, cattle and calves, hay, and pears. Other notable commodities that declined in value in 2016 were eggs, down 65 percent to $117 million; blueberries, down 36 percent to $94.0 million; and red raspberries, down 24 percent to $67.6 million.

Washington is No. 1 in the nation in value of apples, pears, sweet cherries, Concord grapes, hops, spearmint oil, wrinkled seed peas and blueberries.


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