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2021 Washington apple crop update

By
Tim Linden

With a 2021 Washington apple crop expected to be very similar in size to the previous year, it appears there will be promotable volume throughout the year for retailers as well as the opportunity for good prices for growers.

The total crop has been forecast at about 125 million boxes by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, which would be just a slight increase from the 2020 harvest crop of about 122 million boxes, but almost 10 million boxes fewer than 2019.

“There are so many factors involved in the f.o.b. price,” advised Chuck Zeutenhorst, president of FirstFruits Marketing, based in Yakima, WA, “but when our apple crop is in the 120-125 million level that usually means pretty good prices.”

He added that it means there will be adequate fruit for retail promotions all year long. However, he did say that the heat Washington has experienced this summer has resulted in some challenges that the industry is dealing with.

Throughout the summer, Washington has experienced record temperatures with gauges reaching as high as 118 degrees. “We can deal with August heat; we’ve had that before,” he said. “We just weren’t ready for it in June and July.  I can’t tell you exactly how the fruits going to react (once it is picked and in storage) because we haven’t experienced this before (extreme heat in early summer). We just don’t know for sure.”

He did say that the average fruit size appears to be down a half size to a full size. He also said that some of the fruit — especially bi-color varieties — are having a little trouble reaching their optimum color. At the end of the day, the FirstFruit executive suspects this will manifest itself in a very strong market for large, premium, high color No. 1 fruit. He put 88s and larger fruit in that basket.

The other result, he said, will be that bagged smaller fruit should offer some great promotional opportunities throughout the season.

Mike Taylor, vice president of sales and marketing for Stemilt Growers Inc., based in Wenatchee, WA, noted that while the crop estimate was the result of lot of effort by skilled and knowledgeable people and he agrees with the estimate, “there are a lot of variables left to play, namely weather, which can affect fruit growth and dictate whether we have a long enough harvest window for those late apple varieties.”

One of his key takeaways from this year’s pre-season crop update is the increase in managed and branded varieties and the decline in some of the older varieties. “We have seen a significant increase in popular, modern varieties like Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp, SweeTango, Rave and Pink Lady. They are all showing growth potential and it is super exciting to be able to provide a great lineup of product that sell and eat well too. The crop does look to be down in volume, however, there will be good market opportunities to take advantage of. Demand will exceed supply in certain market windows.”

Specifically, Taylor said Stemilt will be promoting and supporting the Cosmic Crisp brand and sharing with consumers the flavor and characteristics of this variety. “It has a great market window, and it will be a state-wide promotional effort.”

Jon DeVaney, president of the WSTFA, also cautioned that the early crop size estimate could be altered as the fruit is harvest. “The 2021 Washington state apple crop looks to be similar in size to last year’s crop. Growing seasons are never the same, and currently many WSTFA members are still evaluating the impact of this summer’s adverse and variable weather conditions. Members have made their best attempt to incorporate these factors, but with harvest just beginning and several months of unknown weather ahead, further reductions in the size of the forecasted crop are possible.”

Gala is expected to be the top variety at 21 percent of production; Red Delicious is projected at 16 percent, followed by Honeycrisp and Granny Smith at 14 percent, and Fuji at 13 percent of total production. Cosmic Crisp is the newest variety to register a big uptick as it has been forecast to come in at 3 percent of the total crop, a 114 percent increase from the 2020-21 crop. Cripps Pink is expected to represent 6 percent of total volume.

WSTFA has pegged Washington’s organic apple production at 15.4 million boxes, which is essentially the same as the 2020 crop. If it comes to fruition that will represent about 12.3 percent of total production.

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