Wash. apple prices should stay strong
Harvest movement picks up after initial slow beginning
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington's 2010 fresh apple crop estimate now stands at 102.2 million, 40-pound boxes, which is down from initial estimates and almost equal to the 2009 crop.
With light national and world apple crops, it means Washington apple prices should stay strong through the yearlong sales season, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
The average wholesale price per box for all varieties was $21.20 on Oct. 30, compared with $19.87 a year ago and $24.56 two years ago. Early prices were high in 2008 before the full effect of a record 108.3-million-box crop sank in, causing demand and prices to fall.
This fall, small fruit and some quality issues with russeting -- skin discoloration -- caused the crop to shrink from the Aug. 1 forecast of 108.8 million boxes and an Aug. 19 correction of 105.5 million boxes. The main concern now is how much russeting affects packouts throughout the season, Kelly said.
"It's a manageable crop. The industry has been doing a better job of finding a level (of prices) we can maintain," he said.
Late harvest of Cripps Pink and Fuji is just wrapping up, which may cause crop size to increase by Dec. 1, said Charles Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association. The final number of the 2009 crop will be very close to 102.6 million boxes, he said.
There's been little to no freeze in the last few weeks and growers should get all their fruit picked, Kelly said.
Movement is picking up, Pomianek said, after a slow start due to harvest being a week to 10 days late. Early sales also were slowed by the start of harvest coinciding with East Coast harvest and an abundance of imports, some marketers said.
As of Nov. 1, 14.3 million boxes of apples had been shipped compared with 17 million a year ago and 15 million two years ago, Pomianek said.
Sales typically average 2 million boxes a week and run a bit higher in December and January. The thick of the sales season is mid-November though March, Kelly said.
It's estimated that 69.1 million boxes will be packed in the Yakima District this year and 33.1 million in the Wenatchee District, Pomianek said. That's slightly higher for Yakima due to a lack of enough warm weather to size up the fruit, particularly in the Okanogan, he said.
Sheds in both districts receive fruit from their own and the other district, he said.
Red Delicious, the No. 1 variety in volume since 1935, remains at that spot but is down to 30.7 million boxes from 34.6 million boxes a year ago, Pomianek said. At about 30 percent of the crop, Reds may be at their lowest percentage. A record low 29.5 million boxes of Reds were shipped in 2003, he said.
The industry has worked hard to diversify varieties in the last decade to improve returns. Red Delicious accounted for 69 percent of the crop in 1990 and 1991.