Apple prices increasing, marketers say

Silvia Casillas tray packs Fuji apples at Valicoff Fruit Co., Wapato, Wash., Oct. 17. With a smaller crop, companies are monitoring sales pace closely to have enough fruit for year-long sales.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — The state apple crop remains small in the latest industry estimate and marketers say prices are improving.

As of Nov. 1, the crop was pegged at 117.6 million, 40-pound boxes by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association in Wenatchee and Yakima.

That’s up .6 percent from the 116.9-million-box estimate a month ago but still down 10 percent from the Aug. 1 forecast of 131 million.

The 2017 crop was 131.7 million boxes. The record high was 143.6 million in 2014.

At a Sept. 20 Washington Apple Commission meeting, marketers complained of low prices held down by a large volume of 2017 fruit remaining to be sold and the need to push some early 2018 fruit deemed unsuitable for longterm storage. Second-pick Gala and Honeycrisp suffered from heat and was sold quickly.

A Nov. 6 USDA listing of average asking prices among Wenatchee and Yakima shippers showed Gala, Red Delicious and Honeycrisp still declining from a month ago and Granny Smith and Golden Delicious staying the same.

The price for extra fancy (standard grade) medium size 80 apples per box for new crop Gala was $17 to $22, down from $18 to $24 a month earlier and from $20 to $26 a year earlier. Breakeven is generally $17 to $20.

“Prices started artificially low but we thought we had a larger crop. Prices now are starting to firm up (increase) across the board which they need to for this size a crop. Prices are increasing dramatically,” said Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan.

Prices will continue to rise for some time and then stabilize, he said.

Inferior fruit has been sold and fruit in storage is of good quality that can be sold in an orderly fashion, he said. Apples have good finish and color and are larger than last year which were small sized, he said.

“Sometimes it’s harder to manage a smaller crop than a larger one. Everyone has backed off production, otherwise we run out too early,” Riggan said.

“We have to make sure pricing is right so growers make money. Costs are higher for growers and packers with smaller crops because your inputs are spread over less volume,” he said.

Ray Norwood, director of sales and marketing at Auvil Fruit Co., Orondo, said dollars per bin will be higher this year but total return could be affected by less volume.

“We’re not all done picking up here in the north. People have been closer to estimates in the north than south. Quality is excellent and sizing is better overall,” Norwood said.

As of Nov. 1, 15.9 million boxes had been shipped, 13.6 percent of the crop versus 13.3 percent of the crop at the same time a year ago.

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