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A Washington State agricultural economist ­predicts that production of Honeycrisp in Washington State will soar during the next ten years from 3.6 million boxes to more than 13 million boxes, making it the state’s fourth most important variety.

Dr. Desmond O’Rourke made the prediction by extrapolating from a recently published report of fruit trees and acreage in Washington compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. He also predicts that Gala will overtake Red Delicious as Washington’s number-one apple variety by 2018. Total apple production is likely to reach between 115 and 128 million packed boxes by the end of the decade.

O’Rourke said it was difficult to make the forecasts because there have not been clear planting trends for many varieties, and yields are difficult to estimate as growers are constantly seeking new techniques to enhance production and no one knows how successful they will be over the next decade.

Apple production yields could be 5 ­percent above or below the average expected yields used in O’Rourke’s  predictions.

But Scott McDougall, vice president of McDougall and Sons, Wenatchee, Washington, thinks it is quite possible that Honeycrisp production could exceed 13 million boxes, judging by all the trees that have been planted and blocks grafted over from other varieties.

It’s a frustrating variety for the grower in terms of ­packouts, which have been averaging around 13 packs per bin, he said, but it is still the number-one requested apple at retail. “It’s a phenomenal thing out there, but it’s a challenge. It’s definitely the hardest apple to get ­packouts.”

It’s also a more expensive variety to grow, with some growers applying more than 20 calcium sprays during the season to prevent bitter pit, to which it’s particularly prone.

“If the price comes down into the $25 a box range, I could see people maybe topworking them in six or seven years to something else,” he said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, agrees with O’Rourke’s ­figures for Honeycrisp. He expects that the industry will ­figure out how to grow it and get higher packouts over the coming decade.

Much of the fruit being packed now is from juvenile trees, he noted. “Once the trees are a little bit more mature, and we get past the juvenility, the trees will behave a little better. The consumer’s demanding the product, so I think we will keep going.”­

Suzanne Wolter at Rainier Fruit Company felt the ­Honeycrisp prediction might be on the high side because Honeycrisp doesn’t grow well everywhere.

“Flavor and quality are key for consumers, and they will not pay for a poor quality piece of fruit,” she said. “If we put a piece of fruit into the marketplace simply because we can put it in the box, consumers will not continue to pay as much for that quality, and it will not continue to yield the same kind of returns back to the growers. Even if they’re planted everywhere, if they don’t return to the grower, then those trees will come out.”

Tim Evans, sales manager at Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, Washington, said he was not surprised by O’Rourke’s prediction that Honeycrisp production could increase to 13 million boxes. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it was 15 million,” he said. “It certainly has the buzz in the industry right now, no question about it. We’re grafting over some older Golden Delicious and planting Honeycrisp at a high level, and I think that’s probably pretty common across the state.”

Red Delicious

O’Rourke estimates that fresh Red Delicious production will drop from the current 33 million boxes to 25 million boxes by 2021, and that Gala will increase from the current 24 million to 29 million during the same period.

Washington Apple Commission board members, who discussed the numbers during a recent strategic planning session, were surprised by the magnitude of the predicted decline for Red Delicious, which has plateaued in volume over the past few years.

“I think it’s going to level out and not decrease that much,” commented West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee. Although there will be some attrition, there are still some new Red Delicious orchards going in, he said.

Evans told Good Fruit Grower he also thought Red Delicious might not drop that much, and would probably level out at around 30 million boxes. There are still ­markets where it sells very well.

“It’s a good margin item for retailers, and it still ­represents the Washington apple,” he said.

However, Evans thought that Gala production was very likely to increase to 29 million boxes within the decade, as O’Rourke predicted, given the acres in the ground and the high density of the plantings.

“It continues to be the super apple, and has been for a good decade,” he said. “Smartfresh [MCP] has really done wonders for that apple, and for the apple category in ­general.”

Managed varieties

Cripps Pink: Lynnell Brandt, president of Brandt’s Fruit Trees, Inc., Parker, Washington, who is a founding member of the International Pink Lady Alliance, thinks O’Rourke’s prediction of 4.2 million boxes by 2021 for Cripps Pink (also sold under the trademark Pink Lady) is on the low side.

Because the original Cripps Pink is a very late-maturing variety, growers run the risk of not being able to harvest the crop before the weather turns too cold in the fall, but Brandt said a new Pink Lady clone called Maslin matures three to four weeks earlier. This cultivar can be planted in sites further north and in other cold areas, which could lead to expansion of acreage. Another early clone will be released soon.

Brandt thinks production of Cripps Pink/Pink Lady could rise from the current 3.2 million to close to 6 million boxes.

Jazz and Pacific Rose: Rick Derrey, ENZA’s coordinator for North America, said production of the New Zealand varieties Jazz and Pacific Rose will be higher than predicted. Jazz will reach 1 million boxes this year, and ENZA has set a ceiling for production of 1.5 million, which will be reached by 2016. Derrey said there are no current plans to exceed that volume, although the numbers are reviewed annually.

Pacific Rose production should reach 425,000 boxes this year and increase to a ceiling of 750,000 by 2018.

Ambrosia: McDougall and Sons, Wenatchee, holds the U.S. license for the Canadian variety Ambrosia. Scott McDougall said he expects volume to exceed 1 million boxes by the end of the decade, up from 520,000 boxes this year.

Piñata: Stemilt holds the U.S. license for the European apple Pinova, which it sells as Piñata. Pepperl said that the 2011 crop came in at around 240,000 boxes, and he thinks production probably will reach about 500,000 boxes by 2021, in line with O’Rourke’s prediction. “It’s a good variety, but you don’t know which sites end up ­working better than others,” he added.

O’Rourke forecasts that Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Cameo, and Jonagold will decline in volume.