Apple prices plateau strong as shippers move fruit

Kanzi apples in colorful 2-pound bags at Columbia Fruit Packers, Wenatchee, Wash., Feb. 4. Kanzi is one of many new Washington varieties helping to increase U.S. apple consumption.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Wholesale prices of Washington apples have flattened at a good level after improving markedly this sales season compared to last.

Average asking wholesale prices of size 88, extra-fancy grade on March 7 were the same as a month ago on four varieties, according to USDA Market News.

Gala remains at $34 to $36.90 per box. Red Delicious is unchanged at $18 to $20.90. Golden Delicious is the same at $26 to $28.90 and Granny Smith stayed even at $24 to $26.90.

Cripps Pink was down at $30 to $34.90 versus $32 to $36.90 a month ago. Fuji was up on the low end at $32 to $34.90 versus $30 to $34.90 a month ago. Honeycrisp was not reported having mostly sold out.

“This is fairly normal this time of year. Shippers are moving fruit that won’t last into August,” said Desmond O’Rourke, a retired Washington State University agricultural economist and longtime observer of the apple industry.

Prices have averaged $25 to $26 per box across all varieties and sizes at extra-fancy grade for the past five to six weeks, he said.

The industry’s March 1 storage report shows the total crop now at 116.7 million boxes, down a mere fraction from 116.9 million a month ago and 117.1 million on Jan. 1. The record crop was 141.8 million in 2014.

The 2015 crop is 54 percent, 62.9 million boxes, shipped versus 54 percent a year ago and 56.7 percent two years ago. Weekly shipments are averaging a healthy 2.5 million boxes.

At 17.1 million boxes, exports are down 29.3 percent from a year ago because of a smaller crop and foreign buying power weakened by the strong value of the U.S. dollar, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.

Total season exports may end up around 34 million compared to 48.7 million from the much larger 2014 crop, he said. Increasing domestic consumption due to better fruit and more varieties also is competing with exports, he said.

The No. 1 export market, Mexico, has purchased 3.5 million boxes of Washington apples so far this season, Fryhover said. That’s down 37.5 percent from a year ago. The market will end up around a normal 9 million boxes, down from 15 million a year ago, but not bad given preliminary tariffs of up to 20.8 percent imposed on shippers in January for alleged apple dumping in 2013, he said.

Exports to Mexico and India increased in February. Mexico bought 1 million boxes. India bought 450,000 which is half of the 900,000 sold there so far this season.

A port issue was resolved but a 50-percent tariff remains and along with the strong U.S. dollar probably will hold exports to India at 2 million boxes this season, Fryhover said. The record was 5.6 million last season.

China continues to build and was at 978,375 boxes at the end of February, he said.

Southern Hemisphere apple harvest is just getting underway and crops have been reduced by bad weather, O’Rourke said. That should prevent imports from significantly challenging domestic sales, he said.

The bigger challenge, he said, is the potential for a 150-million-box crop in 2016 while exports are hampered by a strong U.S. dollar, the Russian embargo and problems in the Middle East.

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