Washington apples have been shipping out to export markets this fall at an unprecedented pace and record prices. Exports are running 40 percent ahead of the same period last year, with almost 5 million boxes shipped abroad by the end of October.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. “If we can keep up a pace that’s similar to this, it really sets the tone for the rest of the year. It could be an amazing year for Washington apple growers.”
Fryhover said harvest was about a week earlier than last year. Fruit size was up, which meant more bins were needed than expected. To turn over bins and get them back into the field, the industry packed more inventory than usual at that time of year, which meant that more fruit was available for sale. Meanwhile, supplies from Southern Hemisphere producers cleaned up well.
Other factors in the strong export demand include a shorter supply in some areas of the world, such as Europe, and stronger pricing for Chinese apples. Fryhover said there’s been consolidation of marketing in China, the processed apple deal there is strong, which creates a floor on the pricing, and consumption of apples within China is increasing as its middle class grows. Prices of Chinese apples on the world market have been comparable with those of Washington.
More than 850,000 boxes of apples have been shipped to Taiwan this season—twice the volume as in the same period last year. Many of the apples shipped there are Fuji. In fact, Taiwan has taken the bulk of the 400,000 boxes of Fuji exported so far. Todd said one of the reasons is that the Washington industry has finally reached the point where it has a good volume of Fuji apples to export.
Exports to Mexico are also running at more than twice last year’s volume with more than 400,000 boxes so far this season. Mexican apple growers, who have the potential to produce 20 million bushels, reported having only 10 million this year. Apples exported to Mexico must go through a 40-day cold treatment. Fryhover said as soon as Gala apples qualified, the exports took off, and Golden Delicious are now being shipped there.
“What we’ve got is a dry market taking larger volumes of fruit to fill the wholesale and retail shelves,” Fryhover said. “We might see a little drop in the next few weeks, but it’s much stronger than in the past.”
Canada also had a short crop this year, particularly in Ontario, which suffered similar production challenges as Michigan and New York. As a result, exports to Canada are up almost 40 percent this season, with more than a million boxes shipped by the end of October.
“One million cartons shipped into Canada—that’s astronomical,” Fryhover said.
Even in some Middle Eastern markets, which are usually price sensitive, demand is up. Shipments to the United Arab Emirates are up almost 50 percent, and exports to Saudi Arabia are up more than 20 percent. Fryhover said European or Chinese apples that they might otherwise import are expensive this year, and supplies from Chile have cleaned up.
Looking at exports by variety, Red Delicious is up 50 percent so far this season, with Mexico taking more than 72,000 boxes, up from 2,000 boxes during the same period last season. Golden Delicious exports are up 63 percent, with most of that increase going to Asia. Fuji shipments are up 137 percent from last year, with Taiwan taking most of those. Gala is up 20 percent, with the greatest increase in Mexico. Other varieties are up 67 percent, with the greatest increases in Europe.
Fryhover said the domestic market is key in determining overall pricing, and short crops in New York and Michigan are behind the strong demand and prices for Washington apples. “I think there’s just a lot more domestic demand than we’re used to.”
The average season-to-date price for all varieties, both domestic and export, is $25.53 a box, up from $21.54 a box last year, according to the Washington Growers Clearing House Association.