Good Fruit Grower

December 2012

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Page 41 of 79

There are still good reasons to grow Red Delicious. apples was $19.66 a box, according to the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, while the average for all varieties was $22.71. So, why would a grower plant Red Delicious apples rather than Honeycrisp, which fetches more than twice the price? First of all, there's market demand. Red Delicious is still F Washington's top-selling apple variety, accounting for just under 30 percent of the crop. This year's production is estimated at 32 million boxes. Secondly, it is easy and economical to grow, says Mike by Geraldine Warner Robinson, production manager at Double Diamond Fruit Company in Quincy, Washington. Growing Red Delicious requires relatively little infrastructure and equipment, and a small crew. Plus, harvest timing is convenient, falling during a lull after Gala and Honeycrisp and before Fuji. Twenty years ago, when Red and Golden Delicious accounted for more than 80 percent of the crop, growers avoided planting varieties that matured in the same time frame as those two vari- eties. Now that production of those stan- dard varieties has declined, growers are feeling the labor crunch earlier, when they're harvesting pears and Galas, said Tom Gausman, with the consulting serv- ices company AgriMACS in Pateros, Washington. And, importantly, workers like to pick FIGURE 1 25 20 them. "If you have a big block of Red Deli- cious sitting on a busy road and it's a good crop, you'll get lots and lots of visitors," Robinson said. "Emotionally, for a grower, it's a bit like a holiday: you're not trying to color pick it and it doesn't bruise badly, so the stress level of picking Red Delicious is a fraction of most other varieties. There's some attraction there." The fact that there are none of the 15 10 5 0 problems with russet and fruit finish that growers face with other varieties is another reason growers might consider planting Red Delicious. "I would guess there's more incentive for an owner-operator who Red Delicious Other varieties Red's not dead or the past 30 years, Red Delicious has been the poor relation of the apple family. Although all varieties of apples have been prof- itable in recent years, Red Delicious is still close to the bottom of the list in terms of f.o.b. prices. Last season, the average return on Washington Red Delicious attractive to say, 'If I'm getting a couple of hundred dollars a bin back on Reds, sign me up!' That would be my logic as a grower." Gausman said Red Delicious is particularly attractive for vertically inte- grated companies to produce because it is easy and efficient to pack as well as grow. "For a warehouse operation that owns the warehouse and the orchard, there's good opportunity to make revenue on both sides pretty effectively because there's good margins on the packing side as well." High yields Dr. Karina Gallardo, agricultural economist with Washington State University, has just completed a study on the costs of planting and pro- ducing Red Delicious apples based on input from a team of producers, including Robinson and Gausman. The hypothetical 25-acre Red Delicious orchard she based her study on had trees spaced 4 by 12 feet apart. She calculates that a grower needs to produce a gross yield of 58 bins per acre (assuming a packout rate of 85 percent) to break even when net return is $216 a bin. The Washington Growers Clearing House Association reports that the average return for Red Delicious last season was $19.66 a box, equivalent to a net return of $190 a bin after packing charges are deducted, using a 75 percent packout rate. Gallardo said the study underlines the Red Delicious prices Prices for Washington Red Delicious have consistently been lower than for other varieties since the 1985 crop year. importance of both high production and prices. "The people who are making money are the ones that are using modern prac- tices even with a standard variety like Red Delicious," she said. Gausman said with the high-coloring strains of Red Delicious it's not uncom- mon to produce 50 to 60 bins per acre very consistently, with packouts of 21 to 22 boxes per bin, which is one of the reasons people grow it. Brent Milne, horticulturist with McDougall and Sons, said high yields are needed to be profitable with any cultivar nowadays. "Just from an efficiency standpoint, I think you really have go into it with the frame of mind that you have to do every- thing you can to make sure productivity on a per-acre basis is as high as possible." Milne said there's not just one easy way SOURCE: Washington Growers Clearing House Association doesn't have a big crew and doesn't want to have all the hugging and kissing that goes into Honeycrisp," Robinson commented. "If you look at the returns back to the growers from the warehouse for established Red Delicious orchards, guys are doing very well. It's 42 DECEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER to improve yields. "You just absolutely have to be trying every horticultural trick in your book to get as much productivity as possible on a per-acre basis," he stressed. "I think it's a combination of planting system and then really paying atten- tion to your return bloom situation on an annual basis. A lot hinges on your chemical thinning programs. I think it's the whole package." (Continued on page 44) DOLLARS PER BOX F.O.B. 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 photo by melissa hansen

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