Apple crop varies across the country
Washington has experienced a cool, wet growing season, while New York growers have enjoyed one of the best growing seasons in a long time.
Mike Nicholson, domestic sales manager at Chelan Fresh, checks Rubens apples in north central Washington. Conditions this year have been good for color.
Courtesy Chelan Fresh Marketing
Mother Nature flipped the switch about Labor Day in the eastern United States, ending the hot weather and ushering in the kind of conditions apple growers love. Warm days, cool nights, and lots of sunshine are making for good color development and excellent picking conditions.
In western New York, John Teeple, from Teeple Farms, Wolcott, said, “This has been one of the best growing seasons in a long time. We had some frosts early in the season, but after that, weather was ideal. Fruit size is excellent. Color is excellent. It’s a real quality crop.”
The warm days and cool nights have fostered color development in McIntosh and Empire, two of New York’s top varieties. “This temperature contrast is exactly what we need,” Teeple said. New York’s crop last year was nearly 31 million bushels, with 27 million forecast for this year.
In Michigan, freezes in May have left frost marks on a lot of fruit and shortened the crop. “Packout has been running a bit rough,” according to Don Armock at Riveridge Produce Marketing in Sparta. “It ‘s like they say, short crops get shorter.” Michigan’s crop last year was big, 27 million bushels, and the forecast is for about half that this year.
“The early McIntosh struggled for color, and color was not great on Gala this year,” he said. “But we’ve got good color coming on the mid-season and later varieties.”
Size on the smaller crop has been very good, he said, with Gala size “the best ever.” Apples are running 88s and larger, he said, with lots of 56s and 64s.
The shorter crop has put some strength into the market for processing apples, which both New York and Michigan produce in some quantity. Armock said some processors are starting to get nervous about availability, and apples are moving at prices higher than the minimum’s negotiated by the Michigan Processing Apple Producers Assocation.
In New York, settlement of the strike by workers at the Mott’s processing plant at Williamson has improved growers’ prospects for processing apples. Some 7 million bushels of New York apples go though that plant.
“Processing apple prices are firmer and prospects look much better than last year,” Teeple said. The strike at Mott’s started in May and, while management brought in some replacement workers, it did not run at full capacity and some growers with apples committed to Mott’s had to look elsewhere to sell them. The big crop last year, followed by the strike, was “a perfect storm” for processing apple growers last year, Teeple said.
The strike lasted 114 days and involved more than 300 workers. The company, owned by Dr. Pepper Snapple, had proposed cutting worker pay and pension benefits. The agreement keeps existing pay and benefits for current workers, but wages will stay flat for three years and new hires cannot enter the pension program and will pay more for health insurance.
In Pennsylvania, John Rice, vice president of Rice Fruit Company, said apples are smaller this year because of a late summer dry spell—eight weeks with no rain—that broke just about Gala harvest time. Rain cracked some of them around the stems. The state is still dry, but enjoying the good harvest weather. The crop started off with an early bloom and has stayed early—harvesting 10 days ahead of normal, Rice said.
The smaller apples has shortened the volume of early apples like Ginger Gold, Gala, and Honeycrisp, with Gala coming in 15 percent below the expected harvest, he said.
In Washington, growing conditions this season have been less than ideal. Cool, wet spring weather led to some russet on Golden Delicious and more small fruit than usual, reported Dave Gleason with Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima. However, it’s mixed, he said. “Some blocks have very nice fruit and some fairly small fruit. There’s everything from small to large.”
Growers in the southern parts of Washington are finishing up Gala harvest and moving into Golden Delicious. A few Red Delicious have been picked in the earliest districts. Gleason said growers who don’t have many Galas seemed to be struggling to find workers as they began harvesting Goldens and Reds. He expected that once Gala harvest was over more workers would become available.
Harold Schell with Chelan Fresh Growers in north central Washington also said the labor pool seemed short in recent days, probably because of all the different crops coming off at the same time. Growers were trying to finish d’Anjou and Bosc pear harvest while picking Galas and Honeycrisp, and starting Golden Delicious harvest. “We have all these different varieties to pick and all of a sudden the supply of workers has been gobbled up.”
Schell said harvest was running about a week later than it should have been based on bloom date. Though fruit size is down, fruit quality is good. Color is particularly good on the early varieties, such as Gala, because of cool weather in the late summer. Often, it can be hot at that time of year.
Washington expected to harvest 35 million boxes of Red Delicious and 20 million boxes of Gala, its second most important variety. The total crop was estimated at 109 million boxes. Schell said the crop might come in short of estimate because of small fruit size. “It’s too early to tell. I think there’s a chance that the apple crop will shrink, but it maybe won’t be as short as some people think.”
Mike Nicholson, domestic sales manager for Chelan Fresh, said it looks like there will be more small fruit to market than in the last few years. However, there could be opportunities for selling bagged apples as well as for shipping more to overseas markets, once the Chilean crop is finished.