WENATCHEE, Wash. — Washington apple prices have been decent but stagnant for at least four months and lower than the industry would like, given the small size of the crop.
Normally by now in the sales season prices should be increasing but high tariffs in Mexico, China and India are blamed for exports being down 29.3% from a year ago and causing more fruit to go to the domestic market and causing marketers to undercut each other on price to keep product moving.
Exports are running at 21.68% of total sales versus 32.5% at this time last year, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.
“The big guys do more chain store sales domestically, and because of the tariffs more is going domestic causing them to be competitive to keep movement,” said Gerry Kollmeyer, sales manager of Manson Fruit Cooperative, in Manson on Lake Chelan.
A month ago, prices were running about 7% higher than the previous year and while that’s probably still true, growers’ production costs per bin are higher with smaller crops, said Brian Focht, manager of the Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association in Wenatchee.
“We’d like to have higher prices to return more money back to the farm. We’re not seeing the elasticity in price that we had hoped for,” Focht said.
Pricing has never really recovered from competition from an abundant and low-priced table grape crop last fall, he said.
Average asking prices among Yakima and Wenatchee shippers for size 80 and 88 for standard grade Red Delicious was $16 to $19 as of March 6, according to USDA. Gala was $18 to $26; Golden Delicious was $22 to $28; Fuji was $18 to $24; and Honeycrisp was $44 to $52.90.
Those were all the same as a month earlier and basically unchanged since Dec. 5. Granny Smith was $28 to $32, up $1 on the low end.
Focht said he expects prices to improve slowly in May and June as marketers run out of some varieties and to improve markedly in July.
“Prices should be better for this size (small) crop. We are 80% export and the tariffs are affecting us and everybody,” Kollmeyer said. “China has been one of our biggest markets for years and it’s really slowed.”
Mexico also is a large amount of the co-op’s business and is the industry’s largest export market.
Keeping the amount of fruit packed per bin up versus cullage is key to helping growers’ returns, she said.
But packouts on most varieties declined in the past month, leading the total fresh crop estimate to decline from 120 million, 40-pound boxes on Feb. 1 to 118.7 million on March 1, she said.
There also was “at least one large diversion of some fruit to processing,” said Tim Kovis, Washington State Tree Fruit Association spokesman. Fruit to processing goes for apple sauce, juice and baking ingredients.
Kovis said the total crop size increase from 117.8 million, on Jan. 1 to 120 million on Feb. 1 was due to a large correction from one shipper and adjustments to packout projections.
As of March 1, 49% of the crop was sold versus 50.1% at the same time last year and 52.7% two years ago.
The 49% is about where it needs to be and the second half always seems to go faster than the first half, Kollmeyer said.
Weekly movement was 2.57 million boxes Feb. 25 through March 3 versus 2.92 million the year before.