Knight Orchards

Araceli Gabino thins apples in an orchard owned by Knight Orchards on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Naches, Wash.

An early forecast of this year’s statewide apple harvest predicts a smaller crop than 2021, largely due to a colder-than-normal spring. But apples will not be affected as much as other fruits such as cherries and peaches.

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association released its 2022 fresh apple crop forecast on Monday, and it predicts 108.7 million standard 40-pound boxes will be harvested, an 11.1% decrease from 2021’s crop of 122.3 million boxes.

“We are pleased with the size of the harvest, particularly in the face of a long, cold spring,” said Jon DeVaney, WSTFA president. “Growing seasons are never the same, and currently many WSTFA members are still evaluating the impact of prolonged cold weather and ongoing crop development.

“Weather is always a factor, and some varieties still have several months of growth ahead,” DeVaney said.

April saw colder than normal temperatures in the Yakima Valley, particularly a two-week stretch in the middle of the month that had below-freezing temperatures at night. This weather hurt the flowers and pollination of fruit trees, local growers reported, especially earlier-blooming crops such as cherries and peaches.

The opposite problem occurred in 2021, which saw a record-setting heat wave in late June and early July that stunted and prevented the growth of tree fruit throughout the region. While last year’s apple crop was roughly the same as 2020’s 122 million-box harvest, both were well below the 2019 statewide harvest of 134.5 million boxes.

Cherry and peach crops, meanwhile, could see a 2022 harvest that falls 35% to 50% from the previous year’s production, state officials predicted recently.

Popular apple varieties

The WSTFA harvest forecast also tracks the popularity of various apple varieties. The amounts of organics and Cosmic Crisps expected this year have increased from 2021.

Cosmic Crisp, a proprietary variety grown only in Washington state, will make up 4.6% of the 2022 harvest, up from 3.2% last year, DeVaney reported.

Washington also leads the nation in the production of organic apples, with more than 90% of the country’s output. The organic forecast for 2022 is 14.4 million boxes, or 13% of the total harvest, with the caveat that not all organic production is packed and marketed as organic apples.

The five most popular apple varieties continue to make up almost three-quarters of the harvest: Gala (20% of the state’s projected crop), Red Delicious and Honeycrisp (14% each), Granny Smith (13.4%) and Fuji (12.7%).

“The strong harvest estimate for these varieties, which have been popular with domestic and international customers, is good news,” DeVaney said. “Apples are synonymous with Washington state, and our members are set to deliver another year of high-quality and delicious fruit.”

Washington apples are sold in more than 40 countries and have long been a centerpiece of domestic grocery stores’ produce departments, noted Derek Sandison, director of the state Department of Agriculture.

Apples represented 20% of the state’s farm-gate agricultural value in 2020, and on average, 30% of the harvest is exported.

“Apples are a symbol of Washington. Wherever I go in the world, the minute I say I’m representing Washington, people tell me how much they love our apples,” Sandison said. “The apple harvest is also vitally important to our state’s economy, representing approximately $7.5 billion in annual economic impact.”

The apple harvest estimate is based on a survey of WSTFA members and represents the best forecast of the total volume of apples that will eventually be picked and sold on the fresh market. It excludes product sent to processors.

Apple harvest usually begins in August and continues into November, so WSTFA officials said the forecast can change due to numerous variables, including the next several months of weather.

Contact Joel Donofrio at jdonofrio@yakimaherald.com.

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