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New apple crop second largest in Washington's history

Estimates released by Washington's apple industry in August indicate that the 2013-14 apple crop will be the second largest in the state's history. Charles Pomianek, director of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, said the statewide total is placed at 119.8 million boxes, down 10 million boxes from last year's record-setting season.

"On Aug. 1, we had 10 million boxes left on the storage crop," he said. From a movement standpoint, he said there will be an orderly transition between this balance and volume moving into the pipeline during the new season.

CropOverviewThe news from Washington apple orchards is that producers are expecting a good, clean crop with high quality and good sizing this season. (Photo courtesy of Stemilt Growers LLC)"We started shipping new-crop apples last week," he told The Produce News Aug. 21. Galas and Gingergolds are already moving into the pipeline.

A volume breakdown for top apple varieties for the 2013-14 season is as follows: Red Delicious/33.75 million boxes; Golden Delicious/10.5 million boxes; Granny Smith/15 million boxes; Fuji/16.5 million boxes; Gala/26.4 million boxes;' Cripps Pink/3.3 million boxes; Jonagold/1 million boxes; Braeburn/2.3 million boxes; and Honeycrisp 5.7 million boxes. The balance of the overall estimate is taken up by all other varieties.

According to Pomianek, acreage in apple production has remained relatively stable. "New orchards are more densely planted, and more fruit is coming off due to better horticultural practices," he commented.

Although sunburn and hail storms did affect some growing operations, Pomianek said weather has generally been good. "It looks like a pretty good year," he said. "We have clean, quality fruit."

Acreage is also being planted in such a way as to minimize labor requirements. "It's amazing what they can do with bin fillers," he said.

"Labor is still an extremely difficult situation for our members," Pomianek continued. "There is a significant pickup in H-2A pickers in the last couple of years." He said use of the guest worker program by larger operations means that more workers are available for smaller producers.

Pomianek said domestic apple consumption has not increased significantly. As a result, "We definitely need new markets [to move increased volume]." He said the industry is working to develop export opportunities as a way to move additional product.

Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, attended the U.S. Apple Association Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference held in Chicago Aug. 22-23. He provided some insights to The Produce News Aug. 26.

"The discussion at USApple was very interesting," he stated, saying that national supplies are expected to be up 13 percent this season. "That's big, but not huge."

The biggest production increases are coming from the Midwest and East. "Michigan's recovery was the big story there," he commented.

DeVaney was asked to provide his perspective about the way in which Washington fits into the national picture, and a comparison of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons was revealing. Because of national dynamics last season, DeVaney said Washington growers picked everything they would get their hands on to supply national pipelines which had dried due to weather impacts in other growing regions. This helped to keep processors busy.

"This year will be different," he stated. Supplies of fresh apples coming from Washington this season will show a 7 percent decrease.

Looking into the future, DeVaney said the trend in Washington has always been to produce greater apple volume. "We've had larger increases with little acreage decline," he noted.

Two approaches to marketing are expected to yield good long-range results for the Washington apple industry. DeVaney said increased consumer consumption will be targeted. "There's always discussions about ways to increase consumption," he said. "Consumers at the retail level may not be as price sensitive as we think." Today, he said consumer purchases are driven by interest in quality and flavor. Washington's growers are increasingly planting orchards with new apple varieties for which consumers have demonstrated a preference.

"With new varieties, we will get new customers," he commented.

Equally important is the development of export markets. DeVaney said the industry is working on policy issues with governmental leaders that will facilitate the opening of new markets.