Demand for eastern apples was very strong in early October, with volumes lower than many growers expected, and storage supplies this season could be down as much as 18%.

“Movement has been wonderful,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association. “Everybody’s packing at full tilt, and the market is responding well.”

While movement was brisk in early October, shippers were still waiting for a corresponding uptick in prices, Allen said.

“It certainly should pick up,” he said. “We just hope supply-and-demand economics take over.”

On Oct. 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $22-26 for cartons of gala 80s from New York, comparable to last year at the same time. Macintosh 80s were $20-24, about the same as last year.

An eastern crop that is packing out at 10-12% below summer estimates because of early blooms and late frosts last spring is contributing to the high demand, Allen said.

New York, for example, won’t likely hit its 27-million-box pre-season estimate, Allen said, and volumes were as much as 10% lower in Wayne County, the state’s top producer.

If demand continues at its current pace, storage supplies east of the Mississippi for the rest of the season could be 15-18% lower than usual, Allen said.

Volumes at Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co. are expected to be 15% lower than last season, said Brenda Briggs, the company’s marketing director.

Early in the season, Rice Fruit typically sees very strong demand for galas and honeycrisps, Briggs said. This year, however, all varieties have been flying out of sheds. Rainy weather in late September and early October, which slowed harvest, hastened movement even more.

“The market is very strong,” Briggs said Oct. 7. “The last couple of weeks demand has been exceeding packing time.”

Fruit was sizing about a size and a half larger than normal for Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co., said Tim Mansfield, the company’s director of sales and marketing, who also reported excellent quality.

Briggs reported outstanding quality and sizes closer to normal, down from last season’s abnormally large fruit. Apples were peaking on 100-113s in early October, she said.

Volumes of ginger golds, galas, Honeycrisps and other varieties have been lighter than expected because of the spring frosts, though empire volumes were closer to normal, Mansfield said.

Mansfield reported strong demand and said markets could strengthen even more in coming months.