Snow, cold end Washington harvest

Inocencio Espinoza, a ranch manager for Koempel Orchards, levels a bin of Cripps Pink apples as Ruben Pacheco Lopez, on tractor, delivers another bin. It was Nov. 10, the last day of harvest at the orchard.

Most of the crop had been picked, but losses still steep

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- About $80 million of a $2 billion Washington apple crop was left unpicked this season because of late maturity and a picker shortage, an industry official says.

Probably 3 to 5 percent of the estimated 101.7-million-box crop was not picked, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

That's about 4 million boxes and at $20 a box that's $80 million, Kelly roughly calculated. That's relatively small compared with the $2 billion value of the entire crop, he said.

Harvest was expected to end this weekend but probably ended a few days early when snow fell in central Washington on Nov. 16, Kelly said.

Less than 1 percent of the estimated 101.7 million-box crop remained on trees, primarily in the Columbia Basin and perhaps in some higher elevations.

The National Weather Service forecast accumulations of 2 to 4 inches of snow from Wenatchee and Omak to Spokane with lesser amounts in Moses Lake, Ritzville and Pullman.

Nighttime lows, ranging in the upper 20s to lower 30s in Wenatchee, were forecast to drop to 19 the night of Nov. 19.

"That should be the end of it. You can't have pickers on ladders in snow or rain. It's too slippery," Kelly said. "It's not critical at this point anyway with so little of the crop left."

Kelly said he hasn't heard of any single grower suffering huge losses, that more likely the 4-million-box loss is spread among some who left a block unpicked here or there to harvest higher-valued varieties.

Large and small growers were among those still trying to pick on the Nov. 16, he said.

"Overall, the industry dodged a bullet," he said. "Given the lack of labor and lateness in maturity, guys still got it done. It's amazing. It looked like it could be a tragedy but it's turning out to be a decent deal."

Kirk Mayer, manager of the Clearing House, said November most likely set a record for volume of apples picked during that time of year. He had no numbers.

October still was probably the heaviest month overall, he said.

Inocencio Espinoza, a ranch manager for Koempel Orchards, was supervising the last day of picking in a block of Cripps Pink apples south of Rock Island on Nov. 10.

"We've had a little freeze damage but not bad," he said.

It meant about 25 percent of the 300 bins harvested that day would go to juicing instead of fresh sales, he said.

It was a short day. Pickers waited for fruit to thaw before starting work about 9:30 a.m. and were done by 2 p.m.

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