Washington apple farmers may see boon from bad weather


SEATTLE (AP) — First, warm spring weather in the
Northeast and Midwest tricked apple trees into budding earlier. Then an
untimely frost damaged the delicate blossoms.
For apple farmers in
producing states like New York and Michigan, this has been a
forgettable year, with severe declines in production of as much as 90
But it is amounting to a boon for Washington state
growers, who are already in the midst of a near record harvest, and now
looking forward to higher demand and prices for their produce.
we can get this fruit harvested, it’s a perfect storm for Washington,"
said Todd Fryhover, president of the Apple Growers Association. "We
could have a banner year for returns and profitability for our industry,
but only time will tell."
Washington is likely to have a harvest
of 108 million bushels, its second highest number on record, industry
representatives said. A bushel is a 40-pound box of apples.
The main variables still looming: a possible shortage of pickers and unpredictable
weather at the end of the harvest season.
Washington’s apple farmers need about 40,000 workers to harvest their
huge crop, said Kirk Mayer of the Washington Growers Clearing House
Association. This year, Fryhover said, growers are reporting a shortage
of roughly 10 to 15 percent shortage.
On a brighter note, this
year’s summer has been "perfect" with warm temperature and spring was
mild with nearly no frosts, Fryhover said. "We’re seeing our fruit’s
sizes get larger as harvest continues."
Just north of Wenatchee in
central Washington, Orondo farmer Tom Auvil saw his orchards produce
about a third more than expected. But he also was one of the farmers who
got hit by hail earlier this spring and his workers had to use masks
for weeks while a wildfire filled the area with smog. This year it’s
shaping up to be a wash for him.
"Our industry is looking at
capacity, folks are pretty anxious to ship fruit," said Auvil, who runs a
relatively small operation at 50 acres. "You can’t necessarily get over
excited about pricing when you have a bountiful of fruits. But prices
do look favorable."
Washington is the behemoth of the industry and
could for 65 percent all the apples grown in the country this, up from
its usual 50 to 60 percent range.
Nationally, the U.S. Apple
Association projects the apple harvest will go down by 10 percent
compared to last year to about 200 million bushels. Because the national
crop is smaller, apple prices at retail are expected to be higher
across the country, industry officials said.
"Growers are getting a bit more per bushels from the packers and shippers,"
said Mark Gedris, U.S. Apple Association spokesman.
York harvested 30.7 million bushels last year, but will see less than
half of that this year if estimates hold. Michigan, which has seen
fluctuation over the past five years — saw a sharp drop, down to less
than 3 million bushels this year from 28 million last year, according to
grower associations.
Canada and Mexico are also not harvesting at top capacities, Fryhover said, putting
Washington in a unique position.
Generally, Washington apple farmers prefer selling their product to the fresh market,
which brings higher returns.
year’s bad harvests in New York and Michigan could mean that Washington
farmers could sell more of their apples to the processed and juice
industries, which buy apples that are not savory enough for the fresh
fruit market. On an average year, Michigan may sell about 60 percent of
its harvest to the juice industry, Smith said.
Prices of the juice and processed market, however, are less than for the fresh
"There will be more apples shipped from Washington to processing on the East
Coast than we’ve ever seen before," Mayer said.
processed market can also look to Pennsylvania, which saw a healthy
harvest, or Virginia to make up for the void left by New York and
Michigan, said Gedris.
If apples aren’t picked for the fresh
market, growers have the option of leaving the fruit on trees, selling
it at lower fresh market prices, or the juice market. But those options
have to at least cover the costs of picking the apples, Mayer said.
20 percent of Washington’s harvest usually goes to the juice and
process markets, Mayer added. Of the fresh harvest, about a third is
exported while the rest stays in the country.
Manuel Valdes can be reached at http://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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