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Washington apples may pick short

Dan Wheat
Early counts indicate Washington's apple crop may come in short of the 119.8 million boxes forecast Aug. 1. That eases pressure on marketers competing with larger crops from other states.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Gala and Honeycrisp are picking a bit short of the Aug. 1 forecast, and Golden Delicious is down 11.4 percent, leading some to say Washington’s apple crop will be shy of the 119.8-million-box forecast.

Others in the industry note there’s a few Golden left to pick, that their number is likely to increase and that the forecast could be right on target.

If the crop is short it will take some pressure off Washington marketers who are competing with larger East Coast and Midwest apple crops and dealing with the loss of markets in China, Indonesia and India, said Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing, a large apple marketer.

Many in the industry think the crop will end up 112 million to 115 million boxes, he said.

Shipments to the East Coast and Midwest are down 200,000 to 300,000 boxes per week industrywide compared to a year ago because of the return of local apples there after a spring freeze wiped out the 2012 crop, Riggan said.

“The regional supply (East Coast and Midwest) resonates with consumers — eat local,” he said. “Where we win is eating quality and appearance. We had a presence there last year and retailers saw fantastic sales. Retailers may shift back our way.”

Honeycrisp sells out even at $3.49 per pound because consumers like it so much, he said.

Movement is good but needs to be better to get sales momentum rolling, Riggan said. Because of stronger East Coast and Midwest crops, Washington marketers will get more aggressive with exports, particularly to the Middle East and Central America, he said.

Shipments are running 2 million boxes per week compared with 2.3 million last year and 2 million two years ago, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

Season-to-date new crop shipments total 8.5 million as of Oct. 6 compared with 9.1 million a year ago and 7.6 million two years ago, Kelly said. Prices are reasonable, he said, at $19.95 per box for Red Delicious compared with $25.65 a year ago and $25.83 two years ago. Gala is $26.19 versus $28.70 and $24.81, he said. At $24.88, Golden is lower than the last two years but Honeycrisp at $64.99 is higher, he said.

The Oct. 1 storage report of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association shows Golden Delicious at 9.3 million boxes, down from 10.5 million in the forecast, Gala at 25.7 million boxes is down from 26.3 million and Honeycrisp at 5.6 million is down from 5.7 million.

But Charles Pomianek, manager of the traffic association, said the Golden number is early and that he suspects it will increase. “Sometimes we don’t do a good job of estimating what is yet to come in,” he said. “It’s just a quick look.”

Kelly said he thinks there are more Golden to be counted. He said it’s an open question whether the crop will be short or long, and that some think it will exceed 120 million boxes. Increased production of newer plantings is the wild card, he said.

Andy Gale, general manager of Stemilt AgServices in Wenatchee, said a few Golden are still being picked but that he thinks the 9.3 million box Golden number will hold. Some bitter pit accounts for Golden shrinkage, he said. While Golden, Gala, Honeycrisp and Fuji all are picking light, Red Delicious is coming in over estimate and Granny Smith might be, Gale said. The crop will be close to the 119.8-million-box forecast and is 70 percent picked, he said.

A labor shortage has eased some and the crop should all get picked, he said. Pomianek said he’s been surprised at the number of mid-size growers turning to H-2A foreign guest workers. Labor is usually tighter north of Wenatchee than in South Central Washington, he said.

Riggan said not all fruit has been picked on time. Some that’s late is being sold sooner because it may not store as well, he said.



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