- Associated Press - Sunday, October 21, 2012

SEATTLE — 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 high as 90 percent.

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.

“If 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.

Usually, 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, Mr. Fryhover said, growers are reporting a shortage of roughly 10 percent to 15 percent.

On a brighter note, this year’s summer has been “perfect” and warm, and spring was mild with nearly no frosts, Mr. 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 Mr. Auvil, who runs a relatively small operation at 50 acres. “You can’t necessarily get overexcited about pricing when you have a bountiful of fruits. But prices do look favorable.”

Washington is the behemoth of the industry and could produce 65 percent all the apples grown in the country, up from its usual 50 percent to 60 percent range.

Nationally, the U.S. Apple Association projects the apple harvest will go down by 10 percent compared with 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.

New 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.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide