National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

In Get Smart fashion, apple estimators missed their mark "by that much."  Would you believe....

The first estimate for Washington fresh apple shipments was 108.8 million cartons. That is too low.

With the state recording its first-ever 3-million carton shipment week in October, the USDA reports season to date shipments of Washington apples were 10,571 (40,000 pound) truckloads through Oct. 27, up from 8,698 truckloads at the same time a year ago.

In contrast, shipments of apples from Michigan totaled only 569 truckloads, down from 2,432 truckloads at the same time a year ago.

With the flush of fruit from harvest, the latest Agricultural Prices report shows that apple prices have backed down slightly in October.

The grower price for fresh apples was projected by the USDA at 53.5 cents per pound in October, down from 61.6 cents per pound in September but still way up from 43.1 cents per pound last October.

Speaking to one apple shipper at Fresh Summit, he said there has been some pricing pressure because the crop was larger than people were prepared for.   That pricing pressure is expected to stabilize by Christmas and then potentially strengthen after that. 

The fruit size is two to three sizes larger than normal, with some estimates putting the total crop from 118 million cartons on the low end to as large as 130 million cartons of apples if all the fruit can be harvested.

The shipper said a shortage of bins in the industry was evident early in the harvest season, but an incredible amount of bins have been built in response to demand, in addition to some construction of controlled atmosphere storages over the summer months.

Another source in Washington I talked with today agreed the first estimate was low, but it may have only missed the mark by a few million cartons, with some predicted a crop now between 110 million and 115 million cartons. The revised estimate should be available by Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

By then, we will know if the industry "missed it by that much," or perhaps much more. Whatever the estimate, all additional apples will be utilized because of the dearth of apples in Michigan and the East.