A new tree-fruit acreage survey in Washington State shows a decline in all tree fruits except cherries over the past five years, and suggests that the state will be harvesting more late-season cherries in the future.
The survey, compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, shows that Washington has 234,000 acres of tree fruits, a slight decline from the last survey in 2006. Sweet cherry plantings in the state have increased steadily from under 14,000 acres 25 years ago to more than 38,000 acres today.
The Yakima and Wenatchee districts each have close to 13,500 acres of cherries, and another 10,500 are in the Columbia Basin. Additionally, 2,000 acres are organic, with 332 more acres in transition.
Bing remains the predominant sweet cherry variety in Washington, accounting for 16,500 acres, of which more than 60 percent are over 20 years old. Sweetheart is the second most important variety with 6,500 acres, followed by Rainier (4,000 acres), Skeena (2,500 acres), and Chelan (2,500 acres).
Recent plantings have higher tree densities. Average tree density for Sweetheart, for example, is 295 trees per acre, compared with 167 per acre for Bing. About 6 percent of the total cherry trees in the ground are on dwarf rootstocks.
The increasing acreage of late varieties, such as Sweetheart and Skeena, and higher densities of recent plantings suggests that late-season cherries will increase as a proportion of the crop.
“There are definitely more varieties on the later end than the early end,” commented Dan Kelly, assistant manager at the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, which was the lead organization in securing funding for the project. Part of the funds came through a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s specialty crop block grant and the rest from donations from industry-related companies.
Kelly said the new survey provides an extremely accurate picture of the tree fruit and grape industries because of a high response rate from growers.
Apple acreage is similar to what it was 25 years ago, at 167,500 acres, though plantings have shifted geographically and tree density has increased.
In terms of acreage, Red Delicious is still the most widely planted variety in the state, with more than 43,000 acres in the ground, compared with 32,780 acres of Gala and 27,683 acres of Fuji. However, in terms of the number of trees, Fuji/Early Fuji ranks first with 22.8 million trees in the ground, followed by Gala with 21.2 million and Red Delicious with 14.1 million trees. Forty percent of the Red Delicious trees were planted more than 20 years ago.
About 35 percent of Washington’s apple acreage was planted within the last ten years. Honeycrisp was the most-planted variety in 2010, followed by Fuji and Gala. The Columbia Basin has 38 percent of the state’s apple plantings, while Yakima has 35 percent, and the Wenatchee district has 20 percent.
Washington has more than 14,000 acres of certified organic apples, and another 1,000 acres in transition.
Acreage of both Bartlett and winter pears has declined since the last count. There are now 22,000 acres of pears in the state, down from more than 25,000 in 2006. Bartlett acreage has dropped to under 10,000 acres, from 11,700 acres five years ago, while winter pears are down to 12,261 acres, from 13,500 acres. Bosc, Washington’s third most important pear variety, has dropped from 2,259 acres five years ago to 1,748 acres. More than 70 percent of the current pear acreage is over 20 years old.
Peach acreage has declined in the past ten years from 3,200 acres to 2,319 acres. Rich Lady has overtaken O’Henry as the number-one variety.
Apricot acreage has been stable over the past 20 years at around 1,200 acres. Rival remains the top variety.
Nectarine acreage is also stable at around 1,500 acres, with Summer Blush and Honey Royal being the two major varieties.