WENATCHEE, Wash. — A larger Washington apple crop has been forecast just as exports to India and China become more troublesome.
The 2019 crop was forecast at 137.3 million, 40-pound boxes by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association in the Aug. 1 assessment that was released on Wednesday.
That’s up 18% from the 116.7-million-box 2018 crop that has 10.5 million boxes left to sell through early fall.
The record crop was 143.6 million boxes in 2014. The 2016 and 2017 crops were both above 130 million boxes.
Annual farmgate value is about $2.4 billion, making it the state’s top agricultural commodity. Washington produces about 65% of the nation’s fresh apples and dominates in apple exports.
“This will be a particularly challenging year for growers, packers and marketers,” said Desmond O’Rourke, a retired Washington State University agricultural economist and world apple analyst.
A positive note for Washington marketers is the Aug. 8 World Apple and Pear Association forecast that Europe’s apple production will be down 20% this fall due to weather. Its pear crop will be down 14%.
High tariffs, fewer exports and a large, low-priced table grape crop last fall made it difficult to sell the 2018 Washington apple crop at a profit even though it was small, O’Rourke said, adding that the larger 2019 crop will be “a much tougher sell without cutting prices.”
He estimates the average price of all varieties, season-to-date, for the 2018 crop at $26 per box with Honeycrisp at $23.25. Breakeven prices are edging upward toward $20.
“Growers with substantial volumes of Honeycrisp probably made a profit. Those without Honeycrisp probably lost money,” O’Rourke said.
Small-volume proprietary varieties also generally do well.
A year ago, Red Delicious was forecast to fall from the volume leader to second place behind Gala. Reds have held the top spot for 83 years.
However, the latest report shows Reds still ahead of Gala for the 2018 season while again forecast below for 2019.
Of the 10.5 million boxes of 2018 crop left in storage, 4.3 million is Red Delicious heavily dependent on export markets, which makes solving trade issues with India and congressional ratification of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement more urgent, O’Rourke said.
India increased its tariff on foreign apples and other goods from 50% to 70% on June 15. The volume of Washington apples going to India has been down 66% but the previous season was abnormally high in anticipation of higher tariffs. Even with the decrease, India remained Washington’s No. 3 apple export market behind Mexico and Canada. India is usually a 5 million-box market worth roughly $100 million.
China, the No. 6 market, is down because of 50% tariffs and now potentially could close if private importers adhere to a government ban on imports from the U.S.
Washington apple exports to China reached 1.7 million, 40-pound boxes in 2017, valued at $18.3 million. Now it’s about 1 million boxes.
While the industry has survived the loss of the $12 million annual Russian market since 2014, the loss of China would be survivable but have a significant impact to growers, packing houses and sales desks that have worked hard to develop that market, said Mark Powers, president of Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.
The Russian ban included European apples, which then began competing with the U.S. for sales in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Both markets had been the lone domain of U.S. apples, Powers said.
Tim Evans, sales manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing, said 2019 apples should be more attractive to export markets because they appear to be one to two sizes smaller than last season.
Fire blight, severe on apple and pear trees a year ago, is much less prevalent this year because of better weather conditions during bloom, said Louis Nottingham, a scientist at WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.
Harvest began in late July with Ginger Gold and Rave apples. Gala harvest is now starting. Harvest will end in early November with Cripps Pink, Granny Smith and Fuji.