WENATCHEE, Wash. — Sales and prices of Washington apples are still doing well at the start of 2014 with exports to Vietnam more than double a year ago.
But a lot of the new volume into Vietnam is black market flow from there into China, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee. It’s been heightened by China’s closure to U.S. Red and Golden Delicious in August 2012 and likely will drop when China reopens to those varieties and if it eventually accepts all U.S. varieties, Fryhover said.
As of Jan. 1, 711,000 boxes of Washington apples had been shipped to Vietnam compared with 305,000 at the same time a year ago, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association.
Vietnam had been a growing market on its own and the Apple Commission in excited about that but the growth has been accentuated the last two seasons as a funnel into China, Fryhover said.
Exports to Hong Kong, a traditional gray market into China, are down at 693,000 boxes versus 1 million a year ago.
Overall, Washington apple exports are down 6.5 percent from a year ago but last year’s crop was larger, Fryhover said. But exports are doing well because they are closer to two years ago when the crop was closer in size of this year’s crop, he said.
As of Jan. 1, total exports were at 12.5 million boxes down from 13.4 million a year ago but up slightly from 12.3 million two years ago, Kelly said.
Washington’s No. 1 apple export market, Mexico, was at 2 million boxes on Jan. 1 compared with 2.3 million a year ago. Fryhover said that’s actually good given that Chihuahua has a dramatically larger crop this year.
As of Jan. 1, Washington’s fresh crop stands at 113.5 million boxes, a gain of 189,000 boxes from a month ago, Kelly said. It’s probably due to better-than-anticipated packouts from storage, he said. The crop is still the industry’s second largest but down from 128.8-million-box record crop of 2012.
The crop was 34.4 percent shipped as of Jan. 1 versus 33.5 per a year ago and 34.7 percent two years ago, Kelly said. Weekly shipments were hitting 2.8 million boxes before the holidays and slowed to 2 million during weeks of Christmas and New Year’s which is normal, he said.
Prices have declined some since September but remain remarkable stable and may increase in January as East Coast supplies diminish, he said.
As of Jan. 5, Red Delicious were at $17.53 wholesale versus $22.32 a year ago and $19.18 two years ago, Kelly said. Gala was $23.44 versus $26.54 and $22.85. Fuji, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp also were above two years ago. Only Red and Golden Delicious were lower than two years ago.
“The fact we have good size on fruit has allowed us to market against a full crop in the East. They have smaller fruit so we got the best cards we could when they have more,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee.
The 2012 crop was exceptional in volume, prices and grower return, but growers are cautiously optimistic that the 2013 crop is turning out to be remarkably good, given larger crops in New York and Michigan, said Bruce Grim, manager of the Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association.
“Packs per bin will be down from last year because of more bitter pit, stemble cracking and heat-related issues which will impact grower returns,” Grim said. “There was more repacking at the front-end of the season, but overall we can be optimistic about how this year will turn out.”