As the harvest passes its midpoint in Eastern Washington, apple industry promoters say a rare combination of near-record production in Washington and relatively high prices is creating a stellar year for the state’s $7 billion apple industry.
“This is absolutely a great year to be a grower in this state,” said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission.
If the harvest continues as it has since mid-August – and there are no indications it won’t – apple growers expect 2012 will be the highest or second-highest production year in history.
Couple that with the relative scarcity of fruit from other regions and resulting high prices, and the industry expects to record 2012 as exceptionally profitable.
Credit Washington’s good fortune and other states’ bad for that phenomenon.
The warm, dry weather of the past several weeks has created ideal growing and picking conditions on the east slopes of the Cascades. In the nation’s other major apple-growing areas, Michigan and New York in particular, a warm early spring followed by killing frosts have decimated crops.
“It’s not a good situation,” said Gretchen Mensing, communications director for the Michigan Apple Committee. The frost killed 90 percent of Michigan’s crop, she said.
Michigan, the nation’s third-ranking apple producer after Washington and New York, usually produces about 23 million bushels of apples. This year’s crop is expected to be 3 million.
Weak production is the story throughout most of the nation and the world, said Todd Flyhover, the Washington Apple Commission’s president.
Nationwide, apple production is expected to be the lowest since 1986.
“Michigan, New York, Canada, Mexico and Europe are all expected to see disappointing production,” he said. In Mexico, for instance, production is expected to total about 10 million bushels compared with production capability of 20 million, he said. In Europe, production is down 9 percent.
Meanwhile, Washington’s production is expected to be about 109 million bushels. The record for a single year is 109.2 million. Production would have been higher, but some orchards were hit with hail storms in July, damaging their fruit.
The result of the near-record crop is a huge dominance for Washington fruit in the nation’s markets.
“In a more ordinary year, Washington produces about 50 to 60 percent of the nation’s apples,” Lyons said, adding, “This year it could be 77 percent.”
At a wholesale level, apple prices are about 16 percent higher than last year, Lyons said. Prices vary based on timing and variety, she said.
Red Delicious, a common variety, is selling for about $25 a bushel. That compares with an overall 2010-11 price of $18 a bushel. Rarer varieties, such as Honeycrisp, are selling for up to $60 a bushel.
That price is being passed on to consumers. Some apples are selling for more than $1 each in some stores.
Washington apple growers, many of whom also raise pears, also are seeing a pleasant side-effect in the prices they’re receiving for their pear crops.
The relative scarcity of apples is pumping up the demand for pears, said Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest.
Washington and Oregon produce 84 percent of the nation’s fresh pears.
Pear shipments totaled more than 300,000 boxes each week for the past three weeks, Moffitt said.
“The highest volume we had seen in the past was 300,000 boxes for a single week,” he said.
Pear prices are up this year, and Moffitt expects they’ll continue to rise. The average for all pears this year is $22.37 a box, according to one price-tracking service. Last year, that price was $20.92 a box.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663