(Aug. 24) CHICAGO — Strong apple production from Washington is forecast to lead a rebound from last year’s volume.

Overall, the U.S. should produce 221.55 million 42-pound boxes, say growers attending the U.S. Apple Association Outlook 2004 conference Aug. 19-20 in Chicago.

That’s 8% more than the 2003 crop of 205.08 million boxes for the U.S. The 2002 crop, at 203.7 million boxes, was the smallest crop since 1988.

However, the 2004 crop is shaping up to be bigger than the two previous years, it is still 3% less than the five-year average.

“It’s the fourth lightest crop since 1988,” said Jim Cranney, U.S. Apple vice president.

About 61% of production is headed for the fresh market.

The U.S. Apple figures come close to matching the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate of 223 million boxes for 2004.

Cranney said the 2004 crop presents a “season of opportunity” for U.S. apple growers. Among the factors at play is a tighter storage supply as the 2004 crop begins coming on.

Cranney also said an expansion in exports is likely if tariff issues with Mexico can be resolved.

In addition, the potential represented by interest from McDonald’s Corp. in apple slices represents more reason for an apple industry renaissance, he said.

Washington leads the 2004 rebound with expectations of 123.81 million boxes, which is 16% more than 2003 and 1% more than the five-year average.

The eight-state Western region should produce 139.9 million boxes, 8% more than last year.

The USDA estimated 142.64 million boxes for the region, the difference showing up in slightly increase production for California, Oregon and Idaho. The U.S. Apple figures for powerhouse Washington mirrored USDA figures.

California’s production is pegged at a 2% drop from 2003 by U.S. Apple figures, to 9 million boxes.

Production in the East is projected to increase 3% over the 2003 crop to 52.8 million boxes, with New York leading with a 6% increase to 26 million boxes.

For the East region, U.S. Apple’s estimate tempered the USDA 2004 forecast of 53.79 million boxes.

The crop in west New York looked to be a good one with well-sized fruit, said George Lamont of Lamont Fruit Farm Inc., Albion, N.Y., during the report for New England growers. The area had seen lots of rain and little sun, he said.

“The sun did shine one day, but I can’t remember when it was,” Lamont said.

New York growers benefited particularly from McDonald’s interest in the empire apple, he said.

Midwest apple production is expected to drop 7% from 2003. Michigan’s 20 million boxes accounts for the lion’s share of the 12-state region’s production of 28.83 million boxes.

The USDA pegs 2004 Midwest production at 26.56 million boxes, shorting Michigan just under 2 million boxes from the U.S. Apple estimate.

About two-thirds of Michigan’s production is headed to processors, said Dennis Courtier, president of Pepin Heights Orchard, Inc., Lake City, Minn., in giving the Midwest report.