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Clean pipeline hungering for Washington apples

by Lora Abcarian | September 13, 2011

Washington’s apple producers are ready to move apples into a lean, clean pipeline as the 2011-12 season ramps up. “As of this morning, we have [fewer] than three million boxes [of old-crop apples] left,” Charles Pomianek, director of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, told The Produce News Aug. 29. “We’re out of fruit in the state of Washington right now.”

Although the start of the 2011 apple harvest in Washington was approximately two weeks behind typical timetables, growers report a clean crop and excellent fruit quality. (Photo courtesy of Rainier Fruit Co.)

Anticipation is running high as producers wait to see whether production patterns for apples will mimic trends for this year’s cherry crop from the Pacific Northwest. “Cool spring weather put all Northwest tree fruit one to two weeks behind usual harvest dates,” said Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, on Aug. 30. “However, cherries were subject to the same spring conditions, and they developed good size and quality despite the late start.”

Mr. Pomianek agreed. “If cherries can size up, apples can size up, too,” he said.

Despite the earlier weather rollercoaster, the atmosphere is charged. “If Washington’s current good weather continues, the 2011 apple crop is on track for a similarly strong finish,” Mr. DeVaney stated.

Mr. Pomianek said favorable growing conditions will result in a clean crop of high quality in 2011-12.

This season, the industry is anticipating 106.3 million boxes of apples will be produced, down approximately 3 percent from the 2010-11 season. A forecasted breakdown by variety, number of boxes and percent change from the 2010-11 season is as follows: Red Delicious, 33.5 million boxes, down 2 percent; Golden Delicious, 10.3 million boxes, down 6.7 percent; Granny Smith, 12.6 million boxes; down 2.8 percent; Fuji, 13.7 million boxes, down 9.1 percent; Gala, 22.3 million boxes, up 4 percent; Braeburn, 2.8 million boxes, down 13.3 percent; Jonagold, 900,000 boxes, down 13.2 percent; Cameo, 700,000 boxes, down 10.5 percent; Cripps Pink, 2.7 million boxes, down 7 percent; Honeycrisp, 3.6 million boxes, up 27.6 percent; and all other varieties, 3.1 million boxes, up 7.9 percent.

Numbers for Honeycrisp, a variety that has gained in marketplace popularity, have trended upward as newer apple blocks come into production.

“The national apple crop is expected to be right at the five-year average,” Mr. DeVaney added.

Gala production, which is typically in full swing during the middle of August, commenced with limited volume. Stronger production was anticipated toward the end of the month.

Mr. Pomianek provided a little perspective about late-season prospects. “The caveat on our crop will be November weather,” he stated. With the production season pushed back nearly two full weeks, the harvest will extend into mid- to late November, a time when frost and cold weather become factors.

Washington’s apple growers continue to produce more volume on less land. According to Mr. Pomianek, a total of 173,000 acres were planted to apples in 2006. During 2011, production acreage was reported at 167,500 acres. Despite the decrease in acreage, Mr. Pomianek said there were 75.1 million trees in the ground in 2006 compared to 94.1 million trees in 2011. He attributed increased productivity to additional high-density and trellis plantings. “We took an awful lot of Red Delicious trees out 10 to 12 years ago,” he added.