Good Fruit Grower

October 2015

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Page 15 of 47

16 OCTOBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER T here was muted optimism as the Washington apple industry ended a trying 2014-15 sea- son and harvested a significantly smaller crop this fall. The U.S. Apple Association estimate com- piled in August shows a total national crop (fresh and processing) of 235 million boxes, down from 272 million a year ago. The Eastern crop is forecast down 6 percent from last year, and the Midwestern crop about the same as last year, but the Western crop was expected to be down 18 percent from last year. The Washington crop was forecast at 121 million boxes of fresh apples. Though a large drop from the 140 million boxes shipped last season, it is still the third larg- est crop ever harvested in Washington, just behind the 2012 crop of 128 million boxes, which returned record profi ts to growers. The past year was a different story. Exports were hampered by several factors including: the closure of the China market for part of the season; a major slow- down at West Coast ports; the strengthening value of the dollar, which made U.S. apples more expensive; and disruptions in export markets because of phytosanitary requirements and a food safety scare triggered by contaminated caramel apples. "Last year really took its toll," refl ected Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, which handles export promotions on behalf of the industry. "It was a very diffi cult season for everybody. You could do everything you could do, but it was not enough. Every time you turned a corner there was a different challenge that faced you." As a result, returns for mainstream varieties were dismal. The season-average f.o.b. price for Red Delicious was less than $14 a box and the average for Golden Delicious was around $14.50 a box. The average Gala f.o.b. was just under $20 a box. Assuming a break-even price of $20 for growing and packing, only Cripps Pink/ Pink Lady, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, and the more minor varieties were profi table. New challenges While struggling to market last year's record crop, Washington producers faced a new set of challenges in growing the new crop, including record high tempera- tures and drought. Part of the reason volume is so much lower this year is the small size of the apples overall because of the heat. But Fryhover believes the industry in general is optimistic about the coming season. Gala is close to overtaking Red Delicious, which has been Washington's top variety since the 1940s. by Geraldine Warner Apples Smaller crop raises HOPES

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