This fall’s apple crop in Washington has come in at 122 million packed boxes—13 million boxes more than first forecast and 12 million more than the state has ever harvested before, according to the industry’s November storage report. The previous record was a mere 110 million boxes in 2010.
While other areas of the United States had extremely short crops this season because of spring freezes, Washington had excellent growing conditions, other than late-summer hail. With a short supply nationally, Washington apples have been shipping out at a record pace.
By early November, with the last of the apples still to be harvested, a record 19 million boxes of Washington apples had already been shipped this season. During the last week of October alone, 3 million boxes—3,000 truck loads—were shipped. Exports have been running 40 percent ahead of last season and domestic shipments 36 percent higher. Prices have also been setting records, running $4 a box higher on average than at this time a year ago.
Dan Kelly, assistant manager at the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, said the stars aligned for the Washington industry this year.
“We’ve got the largest crop ever, we have the biggest shipments to date ever, we have good pricing levels, and we have a big increase in export shipments,” he said. “It’s definitely an unusual year. I just sit back looking at the numbers of the whole deal, and say, ‘When am I going to wake up?’”
The November storage report shows that the Gala crop came in more than 4 million boxes higher than first forecast at 26.5 million boxes, with 25 percent of the volume already shipped by the end of October.
The Red Delicious crop is now forecast at 36.6 million boxes, Golden Delicious 12.6 million, Granny Smith 13.1 million, Fuji 17.2 million, and Honeycrisp at almost 5 million. Of the total crop, 8.6 million boxes are organic apples.
Kelly said the increase in volume can be attributed in part to increased productivity in Washington orchards. A fruit tree survey published last year showed that the state’s apple acreage had not increased over the previous five years, but tree density had.
“We used to talk about 40 bins an acre,” he said. “Now, I’m hearing 80 and 100, depending on the variety.”
Kelly said 120 million packed boxes (or around 145 million, including processing fruit) could be the new norm for Washington.
“Next year, if we have a crop like this, and if we have more competition from other states and other countries, it will be a challenge,” he said. “But when we first hit 100 million boxes, it was a huge deal and prices weren’t all that great, but the following year we had something close to that crop, and the pricing adjusted.”
Prices for processing apples have also been strong this season, ranging from $230 to $280 a ton for juice apples, $260 to $300 a ton for peelers, and $400 a ton for organic apples.
Kelly said record prices don’t necessarily mean growers will receive the highest returns ever because their costs have also risen. Labor costs have increased because of tight supplies, and fuel is also a big expense.
“A good grower who’s done the right things will make money this year, but they still have to make up for some other years when they didn’t do so well,” he said.