Gala variety apples are expected to surpass red delicious for the first time this season. ( The Packer staff )

Red delicious, once the shining example of how an apple should look, most likely will lose its No. 1 spot as the most-produced U.S. apple, to the gala variety.

Actual production figures will wait until the fall’s harvest is over, but at the U.S. Apple Association Annual Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference Aug. 23 in Chicago, pre-season estimates point to the change, ending an era that began more than half a century ago.

Other apples rounding out the largest crops, by variety, are granny smith, fuji and Honeycrisp, according to a news release.

U.S. Apple Association’s annual Production and Utilization Analysis puts gala production for the upcoming season at 52.43 million 42-pound cartons (up from 49.57 million cartons). Red delicious is forecast to drop from 57.91 million to 51.69 million cartons.

That doesn’t mean red delicious isn’t important to U.S. growers, according to association director of regulatory and industry affairs Mark Seetin.

“The rise in production of newer varieties of apples aimed at the fresh consumption domestic market has caused demand for red delicious to decline,” Seetin said in the release. “However, red delicious is important in the export market, where it makes up roughly half of our apple exports.

That includes important markets like Mexico and China, where U.S. apple exports now face higher tariffs in response to Trump administration tariffs on steel, aluminum and other products from those countries sent to the U.S. How exports of red delicious and other apples will fare in the coming season remains to be seen.

The pre-season top-five ranking is notable for another switch: golden delicious has ceded its position to relative newcomer Honeycrisp. In a testament to how the old guard of popular apple varieties is quickly changing, Seetin said Honeycrisp production and sales trends put it within striking distance of the third-largest variety crop within two years. Honeycrisp production was 19.32 million cartons for the 2017-18 marketing year, and numbers from the Outlook conference put this year’s production at 23.57 million cartons.

The two-day conference ends Aug. 24.