National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

There is no apple shortage, but apples are short.

It is semantics and splitting hairs to delineate between the two, perhaps,  but the lack of local apple in some parts of the East and Midwest is drawing increasing media coverage. The subplot, however, is that Washington's already ample apple crop is getting under cover with bigger than expected yields.

On the Today Show website, this story insisted "Apple 'shortage' unlikely despite damage to nation's crop."  Other coverage said apple cider is "like the caviar of the produce department."

From the story from Today:

Local apples may be hard, or impossible, to find in the more heavily dinged geographies, but overall you should see full bins of apples at the supermarket throughout the year. The most commonly produced apple in America, the Red Delicious, is actually seeing slightly lower prices this year from last, down .025 dollars from a year ago. Otherwise prices for early varietals are running about a dime more per pound than a year ago.

Later in the story:

"Right now, we are expecting no shortage and should be able to keep the apple supply steady," the U.S. Apple Association's Mark Gedris told NBC News. "We don't expect people to be paying more for apple pies this Thanksgiving." It's not until the spring that shoppers might notice changes at the supermarket level, although by then imports from Chile and New Zealand can start to pick up some of the slack.


A quick look at USDA reported apple shipments so far this season indicate that season to date apple shipments through the end of September were up strongly for Washington shippers but way off for Michigan, as we would expect. Washington apple shipments through Sept. 29 totaled 4,896 (40,000 pound) truckloads, up 38% from the 3,549 truckloads shipped through the same time a year ago.

Meanwhile, Michigan apple shipments through the end of September totaled only 291 (40,000 pound) truckloads, off 74% from the 1,106 truckloads shipped through the same time a year ago. New York apple shipments so far this year are not too far off last year's mark, with 889 truckloads shipped so far, down 9% from the 979 truckloads shipped the same period a year ago.

Promotions of apples by retailers are also off this year, according to the latest national fruit and vegetable retail report. In the Oct. 5 report, apples accounted for 29% of fruit ads, compared with 18% for grapes and 10% for pears. For the same week last year, apples accounted for 30% of fruit ads, followed by grapes with 17% and pears 11%.

Ad promotions for honeycrisp apples were active in 5,469 stores in the Oct. 5 report, with an average price of $2.43 per pound. Last year at the same time, honeycrisp apples were being promoted in 6,067 stores at an average of $2.11 per pound.

In the Midwest, the USDA reports retailer were promoting three-pound bags of red delicious apples in a range form $2.50 to $3.99 per bag, up from $1.69 to $2.99 per pound at the same time a year ago.

Prices are substantially up from a year ago; USDA reported the f.o.b. price for size 80s golden delicious in Washington were $28 to $30 per carton Oct. 9, up from $22 per carton at the same time a year ago.

The USDA reported average grower prices for U.S. apples in September this year totaled 61.2 cents per pound, up from 53.9 cents per pound in August and up from 42 cents per pound last September. Check out the USDA fruit outlook report here.

The good news for apple consumers is the big crop in Washington, which appears destined to set a record.

 Tim Smith, Wenatchee-based Washington State University extension plant pathologist and tree fruit specialist, told me Oct. 9 that every grower he has talked to has picked over their estimate, primarily gales, goldens and reds so far.

"It will easily be a record (crop)," Smith said.

After initial estimates called for a crop less than 110 million cartons, one shipper told me he now expects the fresh crop in Washington to be closer to 115 million to 117 million cartons, thanks largely to better than expected fruit size and condition.

The only downside is that apple pickers are in short supply, perhaps 20% to 30% shy of need, Smith said.

Washington's big supply of apples should ease the overall U.S. short supply and set up a memorable "perfect storm" for the apple sellers in the state.