In the third week of July 2012, at the Washington Apple Commission’s board of directors meeting, I decided to have a little fun. Around the conference room table were some of the brightest in our industry who dedicate their lives to their business and our industry. I figured they should know.
“Take a piece of paper, and, without looking at your neighbor or further discussion, estimate the 2012 Washington apple crop,” I told them. “And at the December board meeting, I’ll present the results, and let’s just see who is really in the know.”
Think back … Washington had perfect spring weather—even the fence posts bloomed. Spring and early summer weather was inclement to say the least—ask a cherry grower. July brought significant hail damage, with some estimating 5 to 15 million bushels of apples affected. So, the stage was set. As I run the estimates through my fingers, I quickly review them before dropping them into an envelope for safe keeping until December. One estimate in particular draws a chuckle—29,234,000—9 million more than the nearest estimator. “What is this guy thinking?” is my thought, but little did I know.
August 1, and the traffic associations provide our first glimpse into the Washington apple crop—108,753,000 bushels. That’s somewhat believable, with the bad weather in July. It would be the second-largest crop historically, but most of the packers I spoke to thought it could be more. August weather is perfect for fruit sizing, and Gala harvest begins in earnest.
The word starts to spread—it’s not uncommon for growers to harvest 10 to 20 percent over estimate. Could it be? With harvest just beginning and industry concentrating on an orderly harvest with limited labor, growers continue harvest unabated. Packing lines begin double shifts to fill unprecedented demand; storages fill up quickly; growers need more bins to continue harvest; and turnover at the warehouse level becomes the mantra. Suddenly, it’s November 1, and the traffic associations announce 121,521,000 boxes—and nobody is surprised!
Perfect fall weather provided the necessary time to harvest our entire crop, thanks to Mother Nature. The shortfalls in Michigan and New York gave industry reason to harvest every single apple, and the processor market was strong, putting a floor under market prices. Clearly, Washington was in the middle of the perfect storm. We had over 90 percent of all U.S.-grown apples with a hungry domestic market. We knew this large crop was possible. After all, it is 2012, the year we’ve always been looking to as “the big one.” Is our crop a glimpse into our future? The December crop number holds the answer.
Over the last five years, the Washington apple crop has increased on average 4 percent from the November estimate to December. This would put the crop at 126,406,000 fresh bushels, a number presented to the Apple Commission board during its December 5 meeting one day prior to the traffic associations publishing the storage report. Everyone agreed, yes, it could be 126 million and Mike Hambelton with CMI (Columbia Marketing International) in Wenatchee was honored for making the nearest guess back in July.
And then the sun came up Thursday, December 6, and it hit me right between the eyes: 129,683,000 boxes!
Anomaly or reality?
So which board member got it right in the end? The winner was Frank Davis, vice president of business development with Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima.