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Chris Falk, vice president of sales for Washington Fruit & Produce Co. in Yakima, WA, said that apple volume will be down slightly for the 2010-11 season. "We are down about 5 percent from last season due to miscellaneous weather issues during and after bloom," he told The Produce News. “We experienced some pockets of hail and frost damage, and we also took out some old acreage that was not performing.”

Asked about quality and sizing, Mr. Falk replied, “Quality is pretty good this year, but size is smaller by at least one size. Some marginal growing conditions kept miscellaneous items from sizing up.”

The company markets a full manifest of conventional product under the “Independent” label. Washington Fruit markets throughout the United States with its largest markets located in the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest corridors. “For export, the majority of our fruit goes to Mexico, Taiwan and Hong Kong/China,” he added.

Approximately 60 percent of apple volume is marketed to retail, and wholesale customers account for the balance.

The company's new apple facility was built to allow Washington Fruit to double its production capacity. “We have not doubled [this season], but it’s increased about 1.5 times,” Mr. Falk said. “We have a similar crew count over there as at the previous facility. So it makes the new one much more efficient.”

According to Mr. Falk, apple pricing is higher this season when compared to the 2009-10 crop, and he attributed the difference to a slightly smaller crop this season. “Also, miscellaneous other produce commodities have been tight due to weather issues [such as cold weather in Florida and rain in California], so we are seeing more demand as a result. And there has been very strong export apple demand season to date.”

He went on to say that export demand may have increased due to a weaker U.S. dollar and apple shortages from other producers.

As for marketplace trends, Mr. Falk said that there is continued stiff price competition among major operators. “They are wary of price increases as it’s difficult to pass them along in this environment,” he observed.