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Apple bitter pit cullage up

Dan Wheat
Cullage from bitter pit is up in this year's Washington apple crop. Fruit company leaders talked about that, crop and fruit size and sales at a recent meeting.

YAKIMA, Wash. — A fair amount of apples with bitter pit are being culled from this fall’s crop, tree fruit company leaders said at a meeting of the Washington Apple Commission.

They also talked about fruit and crop size and sales.

Bitter pit is a disorder, not a disease, that causes sunken, dark spots on an apple’s skin late in the growing season and in storage. It can get into apple flesh and cause bitter taste. It is caused by low levels of calcium in fruit usually brought on by hot, dry summers.

“We’re picking way too many bitter pit. I know the rest of you don’t have any but we do,” Dalton Thomas, president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, said at the Oct. 10 meeting in Yakima. Others laughed when he said he knew they don’t have any.

“We have a lot of bitter pit this year,” said Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton. Barbara Walkenhauer, owner of Larson Fruit Co., Selah, echoed that.

Michael Roche, owner of Roche Fruit, Yakima, said he had bitter pit in Gala and Honeycrisp. Gala is generally believed less susceptible.

Greg Clevenger, salesman for Northern Fruit Co., East Wenatchee, said the company had to repack 15 percent of its early Golden Delicious to weed out bitter pit. It’s been a problem in early Fuji and Honeycrisp, he said.

Contacted later, Ines Hanrahan, postharvest physiologist at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said she’s not surprised because prolonged daytime and nighttime heat this fall meant trees were not taking in enough calcium.

June through August was the second hottest on record in Washington and August lows were the warmest on record, according to Washington State University AgWeatherNet.

Growers spray calcium on the trees as part of their horticultural routines and there’s not much more they could do, Hanrahan said. The culled fruit can be used in apple juice and sauce, she said.

Honeycrisp is the most susceptible but Golden and Red Delicious and Granny Smith get it, she said. Blotch pit, a related disorder, is likely to show up more in January after fruit has been stored a while, she said.

At the meeting, a dozen company leaders, who also are members of the Apple Commission board, said they are picking over estimate on Red Delicious and Granny Smith and below estimate on Gala, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious.

Most of them said that by the Dec. 1 storage report the crop will remain close to the 119.8 million, 40-pound, fresh-packed boxes industry forecast of Aug. 1. The number is revised at storage reports at the first of every month starting in November and going through the year-long sales season.

Gala did not color well because weather stayed hot too long and there’s great diversity in fruit size, some said. Red Delicious are larger which is a concern since smaller reds sell better overseas, said Todd Fryhover, Commission president.

Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, is short on Gala and Honeycrisp, but should be on estimate with conventional apples while maybe 20 percent short on organic, said West Mathison, Stemilt president.

Mexico’s apple crop is now looking like 22 million boxes instead of 29 million and it doesn’t have a lot of storage, Thomas said. Mexico is Washington’s No. 1 apple export market.

New York and Michigan have large crops and a lack of pickers, Thomas said.

They have a lot of challenges and are selling apples at 59 cents a pound which is freight costs for Washington companies shipping apples to the East, Mathison said.

“I’m surprised we’ve moved as much as we have out there,” he said.



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