Processors on East Coast buy more damaged fruit
By DAN WHEAT
ROYAL CITY, Wash. -- From the family farm atop the Frenchman Hills northeast of Royal City, Derek Allred could see the hailstorms coming last July.
Ugly, dark clouds rolled toward him from the south over the Saddle Mountain Range. There was nothing he could do other than hope they would miss his apple trees. They didn't. But it was hit and miss.
"It's amazing how arbitrary it was. We had blocks (of orchard) within a few hundred yards of each other with different conditions of damage," he said.
Allred and his father, Jerry, grow apples, cherries, potatoes, corn and wheat.
Normally, their apples are picked and all go for fresh pack at a Central Washington packing shed. They're stored and any culls are sorted out and sent to a processor for juice as the rest are fresh packed for sales through the season.
But this season the Allreds had about 3,000 to 4,000 bins of damaged fruit and, like many other growers, it was enough they had to send it straight to processors. As local processors filled up, the Allreds did something they've never done before. They sold fruit through a broker to processors on the East Coast. Those processors were looking for fruit because spring freezes significantly decreased Eastern and Midwest apple crops.
On Nov. 5, some of the last of 1,500 to 2,000 bins of just-picked, hail-damaged Pink Lady apples sat in the Allred's loading yard. Derek Allred said they were destined for West Virginia.
"We were fortunate to have a market back East that was able to absorb a tremendous amount of hail damage that we incurred," he said." We were grateful. It softened our blow."
Danny Day, president of Sunfair Marketing in Yakima, said there's been record movement and pricing of processing apples that peaked about Nov. 5. Northwest processors are temporarily running at capacity, freeing up more fruit for sales to the East Coast, he said.
Some warehouses didn't plan ahead enough for increases in processor-grade and have more apples sitting outside than they would like to, he said. That's caused a dip in price, on the low end, to $120 a ton for fruit of suspect quality while the high end remains $300 a ton, Day said.
Processors like frozen apples for juicing but daily freezing and thawing can decrease quality too much, he said.
Washington still should have about 720,000 tons of processor-grade apples throughout the coming sales season up from 470,000 to 500,000 tons, he said.
But nationally, processor volume is down 6 percent and the temporary oversupply in Washington right now will dry up and become a shortage again in a month or so, he said.