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Golden Delicious plantings have dropped to their lowest level in 25 years.

Golden Delicious plantings have dropped to their lowest level in 25 years.

Fuji has replaced Gala as the most popular variety to plant in Washington. Around 23 percent of the trees budded for planting next spring are Fuji, a survey of nursery tree sales shows. Many growers are replacing older Fuji trees with higher-coloring strains, says Lindsay Buckner, senior vice president for field services at Tree Top, Inc., who conducted the survey.

Honeycrisp jumped to the second most popular variety, accounting for more than 15 percent of the trees ordered for planting next spring. It is difficult to grow and growers have struggled to get good packouts, but it commands high prices in the retail markets. Since the patent expired in November 2008, many existing trees have been grafted to Honeycrisp, Buckner reports.

The market for Gala has remained strong, partly because of the fresh-sliced market, which absorbs poorly colored fruit and off sizes, but the Tree Top survey shows that Gala plantings have declined significantly since 2004. Just under 15 percent of the trees that nurseries have budded for planting in 2010 are Gala, compared with more than a third of the total trees in 1998. Buckner said this trend might reflect concern that the variety is overplanted, with production of more than 20 million boxes in 2008. Some of the new plantings are in Gala orchards that are being updated with high-coloring strains.

Red Delicious plantings have rebounded from a record low of less than 1.5 percent of trees sold in 2006 to almost 5 percent in 2010, but Buckner said this is due in part to increased sales to growers in the eastern United States. Red Delicious is still the largest volume variety in Washington, and many warehouses need it in their mix of products.

Cripps Pink peaked at 7 percent of nursery trees sold in 2009, but it is a variety that not all growers can produce because its long growing season puts it at risk of late-season freeze damage. Fireblight is also a concern with this variety. Fewer than 4 percent of the nursery trees ordered for 2010 are Cripps Pink.

The “other” category of miscellaneous varieties increased to 25 percent of total tree sales for 2010, up from only 3 percent in 1995.

Golden Delicious plantings have dropped to their lowest level in the 25 years Buckner has been conducting the survey, possibly because of competition from Gala in the marketplace. Granny Smith has also dropped to a record low of less than 2 percent of the trees budded for planting next spring. Braeburn has declined to less than 0.5 percent of trees for 2010.