YAKIMA, Wash. — This is a good year to have a record apple crop.
With demand up due to smaller crops elsewhere in the nation and in some foreign countries, Washington state is poised to fill the void with a fresh apple crop projected at 121.5 million boxes.
The estimate is 11 percent higher than the previous record of 109.4 million boxes shipped during the 2010-11 marketing season.
Already, the industry has set weekly shipping records during October and early this month with prices that also are at record levels.
The average price for all varieties, grades and sizes so far this year is $29.28 per box, compared to $25.53 per box a year ago.
Prices for apples destined for juice and other uses have also remained high throughout the summer and into the fall.
“There is certainly demand in the market for a crop this size,” said Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, an industry trade group.
As recently as 2001, the entire state crop was just under 85 million boxes.
State production has been rising as growers convert to high-density plantings with more trees per acre and earlier production.
Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington State Apple Commission, said demand for fresh apples is high in both the United States and export markets. As an example, shipments to the state’s largest market, Mexico, are up 177 percent from last year at this time. The state has shipped 406,000 boxes to Mexico this year, compared with 146,000 boxes at this time last year when the marketing season started a little later.
“Domestically, there are a lot of opportunities. Certainly, Washington is filling those gaps on the retail shelves in the East and Midwest earlier than we normally would. It is leading to strong movement,” she said. “That is why we are seeing record movement. It’s all driven by demand.”
Overall exports are up 40 percent from last year.
Eastern crops are down this year because of killing frosts that followed warm weather in both Michigan and New York, the two biggest domestic competitors for Washington growers. Canadian growing areas suffered some of the same frost-related problems.
Washington state had its own problems with weather in some areas, labor shortages and a late-season shortage of bins and demands for available storage.
The estimated fresh crop is slightly higher than the industry projected in August when the crop was forecast at 120 million boxes. But that was before hail damage cut into the crop. Growers had good weather leading up to the harvest, which allowed the fruit to hang on the tree longer and gain size.
The crop is manageable given the high levels of shipments so far this year, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee, which tracks movement and prices.
“The last three weeks we set shipping records. We are up almost 31 percent through the end of the month compared to the last two years,” he said. “The shipping numbers are there and the pricing is coming along well.”
“My expectation is we will see record-setting weeks in November and December. The demand is there,” Kelly added. “It is going out the door due to shortages in the Midwest and East.”
“Given the shortage in other apple regions, Washington is meeting most of the apple demand now,” DeVaney said.
• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or firstname.lastname@example.org