WENATCHEE, Wash. — Grower-shippers expected a good transition to the new apple crop, with harvest on track to begin near the end of August, weeks later than last season.

“Demand’s going to be crazy,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC. “Once it starts getting cooler and kids get back to school, we’re going to have a lot of shelves that aren’t adequately filled, and I think you’re going to see people really want to jump on all these early varieties.”

“The pressure on galas will be large — that will be the first massively picked item — and then I think once we dig into the (Honeycrisps) and the September fujis, it’s going to be a lot of promotion interest from retailers,” Pepperl said. “There’s not going to be a void of apples on the shelf, but there’s going to be a void of volume, and a big void of promotion.”

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Yakima, has forecast that 130.9 million 40-pound boxes of apples will be packed and sold on the fresh market this season, down 1.2% from 132.9 million boxes in 2016-17.

The estimate does not include product headed to processors.

Red delicious are projected to comprise 25% of the crop, followed by galas at 23%, fujis at 14%, granny smiths at 13%, Honeycrisp at 7% and golden delicious at about 6%.

Companies have predicted fruit will be a size or two smaller than 2016-17, peaking around 80s or 88s instead of 72s.

Bill Knight, domestic sales manager for Northern Fruit Co., said in late July that the apples could size up as the season continues, as that progression happened with cherries this year.

“We had the cool spring and there was a critical time in there where some of the fruits didn’t get the heat they needed,” Knight said. “Some of the fruits were sort of small, and that was basically in the front end of the season, but as we went, it seemed to get better, so hopefully the apple deal will follow suit.”

Some grower-shippers said the smaller sizing will be a relief because it is closer to normal.

“Last year, fruit size was abnormally large, which limited our ability to provide size flexibility to our customers,” said Steve Lutz, senior strategist for CMI Orchards. “It also reduced the availability of our most popular 2-pound pouch bags that have been such a hit with retailers. This year will be very different. 

“If this fruit comes in smaller it is likely to put a premium on the larger sizes,” Lutz said. “The key for retailers will be to remain flexible on sizing in the first weeks of the harvest while we’re getting an understanding of the size profile.”


Trending smaller

Larger fruit last season made selling red delicious particularly tricky, said Randy Steensma, president of Honey Bear Fruit Co.

“We had undesirable sizes. We had way too many 64s, 72s, and that’s not a traditional red delicious sizing,” Steensma said. “Red delicious need to be medium size — 88s, 100s, 113s — and Mother Nature gave us this crop of huge apples, and it was tough.”

This season is expected to be characterized not only by smaller sizing than last year but by great quality.

“Cool nights is what makes the fruit really blush and turn red, so we usually have better-looking fruit, better color, better condition because it’s picked in cooler weather, and better holding power,” Pepperl said. “The crystal ball says that we should have a more healthy, classic crop of apples because of what we’re faced with as far as timing.”