Apple sales hampered by abundant supply

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Brian Banning, grandson of Bob Banning, owner of Banning Orchards of East Wenatchee, Wash., inspects early Fuji harvested on Sept. 21. Growers are concerned about hail damage and russet on Golden Delicious.

Overseas, East Coast crops converge on marketplace

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

Early sales of new apple crops in Washington and California are being slowed a bit by strong supply from Chile, New Zealand and the eastern United States.

"We have a slower start because the crop is later and the pipeline is not as empty as in the past," said Glady Bellamy, president of Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, Wash. "We have a lot more imports and the East Coast is harvesting ahead of us when normally they are behind us. We lost a bit of a window."

"We've been spoiled the last two years by an empty pipeline when we start. Now we have a record amount of imports," Bellamy said.

Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission in Fresno, agreed there's abundant supply. He said six-month-old fruit from Chile and New Zealand is on the market at the same time as new fruit from the East Coast, California and Washington.

"There's a lot of fruit out there," Ott said. But he said movement and prices are decent, just not as good as two years ago.

Bellamy said he's satisfied with movement but that it could be better. He said sales will pick up in October, that the crop is priced to move and that he thinks "we will be OK."

Washington is about a quarter of the way into the harvest of what's expected to be its second largest apple crop in history -- 105.5 million, 40-pound, fresh-packed boxes. California is about three-quarters of the way through a typical 2.9 million-box crop. California's harvest also is a few days late because of a cool spring.

As of Sept. 18, the average wholesale price of all Washington apple varieties was $23.08 per box versus $22.79 the week before, according to the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

"That's not crazy high and not low. It won't stay at that level but it's reasonable," said Dan Kelly, association assistant manager.

Keeping prices high enough for good grower returns while low enough for good movement is a marketing challenge.

As of Sept. 19, only 1.5 million boxes of the old crop (2009) remained in storage. It will be sold out in two to three weeks, Kelly said.

Washington marketers sold 1.7 million boxes of old and new crop during the week ending Sept. 18 compared with 1.9 million a year ago and 1.5 million two years ago, he said.

Season-to-date, through Sept. 18, 2.7 million boxes of new crop had been sold compared with 4 million a year ago and 3.4 million two years ago, he said.

"We're starting later and just switching from more old to more new crop, so it's too early to say there's a trend. One week can make a huge difference at this stage," Kelly said.

Washington growers and marketers are concerned about fruit staying small because of cool fall weather.

Andy Gale, general manager of Stemilt AgServices, which manages orchards owned by Stemilt Growers Inc. of Wenatchee, said so far Gala are not as small as expected but that Red Delicious are small in pockets.

A hail storm bruised Golden Delicious in East Wenatchee and possibly Quincy on Sept. 19, Gale said. It's unusual to have hail during harvest, he said.

Before the hail, growers already were dealing with russet -- skin discoloration -- on Golden, Gale said.

"Some are thinning before they pick. Others are trying to sort as they go through, culling as they go," he said.

"In Mattawa, we did extensive hand thinning and sorting as picking to keep cullage out, and some neighbors picked directly for processors (the pie filling and juice market), that's how bad it was," Gale said.

The cool, wet spring caused russeting of some Golden and Red Delicious and Granny Smith, he said.

"It's difficult to grow the picture-perfect Golden people want," Gale said. "Now we have the tariff in Mexico, which has been a good market for lower grade Golden."

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