Setting up strong availability of galas into June, U.S. fresh apple holdings on Jan. 1 of 103.2 million cartons were up 14% from a year ago and 11% higher than the five-year average.
The U.S. Apple Association reported that Washington fresh apple holdings of 91.08 million cartons accounted for 88% of total fresh apples on hand on Jan. 1.
Low prices helped spur exports of fresh red delicious apples despite a higher dollar, said Desmond O'Rourke, economist and president of Belrose Inc., Pullman, Wash.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported apple exports in November last year - the most recent month available - totaled $108.8 million, up from $99.9 million in November 2015. Volume of U.S. apple exports totaled 92,621 metric tons in November, up from 85,220 metric tons in November 2015. Export sales to China in November were $3.4 million in November, up more than double from $1.4 million in November 2015.
The value of the U.S. dollar versus the Mexican peso increased from 17.2 pesos per dollar in January 2016 to 21.3 pesos per dollar on Jan. 6 this year. That stronger dollar made U.S. apple imports into Mexico 24% more expensive on a dollar to dollar basis.
Yet lower shipping point prices for red delicious helped to offset the higher greenback. The USDA said the average price for Washington red delicious apples was $18.91 per carton on Jan. 7, down 22% from $24.30 per carton in mid-September.
Supply of U.S. fresh red delicious apples in storages on Jan. 1 was 31.7 million cartons, up 29% from 24.6 million cartons at the same time a year ago.
Gala inventories were also up.
U.S. gala fresh inventories on Jan. 1 were 19.7 million cartons, up 32% from 14.93 million cartons the same time a year ago.
Washington gala apple prices were reported at $26 per carton average in early January,
Randy Steensma, president of Honey Bear Fruit Co., Wenatchee, Wash., said both red delicious and galas experienced strong export sales in December, fueled by consumer demand related to the Chinese New Year celebrated this month.
Steensma said Washington shippers will carry gala controlled atmosphere inventories longer than usual this year, likely into the late spring and early summer. The industry expects to offer high quality galas through the first of June, and some packers indicate they might go into July with galas, Steensma said.
The 2016-17 total fresh crop of Washington apples was adjusted from 137.9 million on Dec. 1 to 137.1 million cartons on Jan. 1, O'Rourke said.
In general, Washington apples have boasted large sizes this year, with apples running about 1.5 time larger than the norm, Steensma said.
"We've had to discount the really big apples but we tried to get (those) apples in the marketplace for Christmas."
U.S. Honeycrisp fresh inventories were 4.4 million cartons on Jan. 1, up 22% from 3.6 million cartons a year ago. Steensma said that the Washington Honeycrisp market conditions were firm at $60-65 per carton, with demand very good.