WENATCHEE, Wash. — Washington’s 2019 apple crop remains large, prices are still low, and while domestic sales have been sluggish, exports are ahead of last year.
It still looks like a “very challenging year for the industry” with the large crop depressing prices, says Desmond O’Rourke, world apple analyst and retired Washington State University agricultural economist in Pullman.
“Even without trade disputes it would be a tough year because of the large crop and organics and Honeycrisp not getting price premiums,” he said.
The crop was estimated at 138.168 million, 40-pound boxes on Dec. 1 by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association versus 138.208 million on Nov. 1, a miniscule drop of 40,000 boxes.
In the first three months of the sales season (September, October and November), 30.4 million boxes have been sold compared with 26.3 million at the same time last year and 27.6 million two years ago.
Of the 30.4 million boxes sold, 21.5 million have sold domestically, up 6% but the crop is 18% larger, O’Rourke said.
“So that’s sluggish given the size of the crop. Part of it might be that the crop was a little later this year,” he said.
But exports, at 8.8 million boxes are up 47% from 5.8 million a year ago, O’Rourke said.
That’s driven by volume and low prices but “exports are still well below where they need to be for this size of crop,” he said.
Exports need to be 35% of the crop and right now are running at 26 to 28% of shipments, he said.
Exports to India are up 150% at 181,951 boxes from 72,535 a year ago, despite a 70% tariff.
“I believe India’s ban on Chinese apples is still on. So Washington is it’s main place to area to import from right now and with our Red Delicious averaging $16 a box that must be very attractive,” O’Rourke said.
Taiwan is up 104% at 1,854,192 boxes from 908,578 a year ago.
Taiwan doesn’t have tariffs but had a lot of domestic fruit a year ago so now is back to a more normal level of imports, he said.
Average prices for the week ending Dec. 6 were $15.54 on Red Delicious and $19.20 on Gala, he said.
Sales of the new Washington State University Cosmic Crisp began Dec. 1 at sale prices of $2.99 per pound in some stores but movement and wholesale pricing statistics won’t be reported until the association’s Jan. 1 report. Cosmic Crisp prices are expected to be strong this season because of limited volume.
As of Dec. 6, the average asking price among Yakima and Wenatchee district shippers for extra fancy (standard grade), medium size 80 apples per box for Gala was $20 to $24 and $18 to $22 for size 88, both down $2 on the top end from a month ago, according to USDA.
Red Delicious 80s and 88s were $14 to $17 per box down $1 on the low and top end from a month ago.
Breakeven for growers on most varieties is generally $20 per box but some big operators can break even at $16 on economies of scale on Red Delicious, O’Rourke has said.
Honeycrisp 80s and 88s were $30 to $40.90, unchanged from a month ago and down from $42 to $50.90 two months ago and $45 to $55.90 a year and a month ago.
Fuji 80s were $20 to $26 versus $22 to $26 a month and 88s were $19 to $24 versus $20 to 24 a month ago.
Granny Smith 80s were $20 to $26 and 88s were $20 to $24, both unchanged from a month ago.
Golden Delicious premium 80s were $28 to $32 and 88s were $26 to $32, both unchanged from a month ago.