About 109 million boxes are expected to ship from Washington this season, according to an Aug. 7 estimate from the Yakima, Wash.-based Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association and the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.
Because of a July 20 hailstorm, that’s down from previous estimates of about 120 million cartons. But 109 million boxes should still be enough to make up for some of the damage suffered by apple growers east of the Mississippi, said Jon DeVaney, the Yakima association’s executive director.
“Our forecast is still for the second-largest fresh apple crop in the state’s history,” he said.
Nevertheless, overall U.S. fresh-market volumes will still be down, thanks to huge losses in Michigan and elsewhere, DeVaney said.
“(It) should translate into strong demand and pricing for Washington’s apple industry.”
Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., thought the esimate was accurate, but he stressed that growers won’t know for sure until harvest.
“The wild card is the hail,” he said. “We won’t know what we have until we pick it and pack it.”
The final size of the fresh crop also will depend on how willing retailers are to accept hail-grade apples, Queen said.
As for covering hard-hit areas of the Eastern U.S. and Canada, Queen said Domex’s priority will be ensuring that supplies don’t run out in the 2012-2013 season.
“It’s not about making more money, it’s about stretching the crop out for 12 months to hold our year-long place at retail.”
The industry will begin to get a better handle on the size of the fresh-market crop when galas start harvesting about the week of Aug. 20, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Wenatchee-based Washington State Apple Commission.
But harvest alone won’t answer all questions, he said. Questions about how much will go to processing and how much to fresh will likely linger well into the season.
“This is probably the most difficult crop to define, looking ahead,” said Fryhover, a 27-year industry veteran. “The other thing to consider is: who knows where the price will be?”
As of Aug. 8, however, Fryhover said exports of Washington apples could be down 10-20% from last year.
The Aug. 7 estimate could change by several million boxes in either direction as the season progresses, DeVaney said.
The Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association will release its estimate Aug. 17.