FRESNO, Calif. — After a 30% drop in 2012, California’s apple industry expects volumes to return to normal when production starts in late July.

But it might not be a seller’s market this time around if Washington and other deals ramp up.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Alex Ott, president of the Fresno-based California Apple Commission. “With Michigan, Washington and New York all coming back in, timing will be everything. If there’s not a lot of holdover, then it’s going to be a great window for us. But if Chile is late and Washington is early, it shrinks.”

In the longer term, time might be on the side of buyers, said Rich Sambado, sales manager at Stockton-based Primavera Marketing Inc.

“Washington was about a 105 million-box crop, and this year they’re 129 million,” Sambado said. “It’s been a seller’s market for two or three years for all apple shippers, but if 120 million becomes the norm and Michigan and New York bounce back with their normal crop next year, it could be challenging times moving forward,” Sambado said.

In the midst of all that, California apple growers are small fish in a big pond. Final numbers weren’t available as March ended, but estimated shipments for the 2012-13 season were near 2 million boxes, down from the usual 2.6 million or so. Cold and hot weather extremes were to blame, Ott said.

“With more acreage going into the ground over the last couple years, this year our crop is definitely going to be up,” he said. But as trees bloomed in the first week of April, it was too early to say how high.

Primavera Marketing ships about 1.3 million boxes in four varieties; about half are galas. Primavera and Bakersfield-based Bidart Bros. Marketing account for about 90% of California apple volume, Sambado said.

Galas start at Primavera around Aug. 1; granny smiths later that month. Fujis pack in late August and early September; cripps pink, in October.

“I think we’ll have a lot better size on the galas this year,” Sambado said.

“Even if there are some old crop Washington galas, galas don’t store quite as well, and most customers gravitate toward a new crop the first week of August,” he said. “We built our program hoping the bigger retailers would recognize our quality and want that fresh apple.”

The grower-shipper pumps out 80% of its tonnage by Labor Day weekend. Statewide, apple growers try to sell out before New Year’s, Ott said.