WENATCHEE, Wash. — The estimated size of Washington’s 2018 fresh apple crop remains unchanged from a month ago, the shipping pace is good and prices are good and still edging slowly upward.
The fresh crop was estimated at 117.801 million, 40-pound boxes on Jan. 1, down from 117.841 million on Dec. 1, according to an industry report. That compares with the 2017 crop of 131.7 million boxes and the record 143.6 million boxes in 2014.
Movement is where it needs to be for this crop size, at 37.6 million boxes sold season-to-date as of Jan. 6 versus 41 million a year earlier, said Desmond O’Rourke, world apple market analyst and retired Washington State University ag economist. That’s down 8.3 percent, he said.
Eighty million boxes remained to be sold on Jan. 6 versus 101.3 million last Jan. 1, he said.
Weekly sales are running about 2 million boxes, down 9 percent from a year ago, he said.
Total U.S. fresh apple holdings on Jan. 1 were 91.8 million boxes, 16 percent less than a year ago, according to the U.S. Apple Association. Processing holdings are down 18 percent to 34.5 million boxes.
“Prices are edging up very, very slowly. I suspect uncertainty from tariffs on exports is making marketers wary about moving prices up too fast,” O’Rourke said. “And there still are a lot of apples in New York and Michigan hitting the domestic market.”
Prices are still up about $2 per box from a year ago with the season-to-date average of all varieties at $25.85 on Dec. 30, he said.
Golden Delicious and Granny Smith prices are up almost $2 per box in the last month and Fuji and Gala are showing good gain while Red Delicious remains flat at $18.17, he said.
Prices would be a lot better if there were no tariffs from trade disputes with Mexico, China and India, O’Rourke said.
Exports to Mexico are down 22.7 percent at 1.65 million boxes season-to-date on Dec. 30 versus 2.1 million a year ago, he said.
China is down 39.5 percent at 350,650 boxes versus 579,308 a year ago. Exports to India are down 71 percent at 260,000 versus 898,000 boxes a year ago.
It appears China is closer to wanting to make some sort of trade deal, but Mexico is really the greater concern since it is Washington’s largest apple export market, O’Rourke said.
“It’s a total unknown when Mexico will be sorted out because President Trump and Congress aren’t talking to each other,” he said.
Mexico’s 20 percent tariff on U.S. apples is in retaliation for U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs. Mexico likely won’t lift that tariff until the Trump administration lifts its tariffs on steel and aluminum, and that isn’t likely to happen until Congress approves the administration’s new U.S., Canada, Mexico trade agreement, or USCMA, O’Rourke said. It will replace the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.