YAKIMA - Strong sales are delighting Washington apple growers and shippers.
Apple shipments for November set a record, which was promptly broken in December. Sales have remained healthy so far this year.
“Everything looks good at this point,” observed Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House in Wenatchee, which tracks prices on behalf of its 2,200 members.
“We should be sailing along with movement and price. I don’t see anything changing that.”
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Marketers say smaller crops of apples in competing states and countries and damage to other fruit and citrus crops are fueling the strong season. There also is more retail shelf space, an economy that is beginning to recover and a growing interest in health and nutrition. On top of that, export demand is up more than 11 percent this year.
“It is just a smaller supply of items that compete indirectly and problems with a diminished supply of competing apples around the United States and the rest of the world,” said Andrew Erickson, sales manager for Washington Fruit & Produce Co. of Yakima, a major apple grower and packer.
Small crops in Eastern states, primarily New York and Michigan, have retailers turning earlier to Washington, which has most of the remaining domestic supply.
Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, said freeze damage and drought hurt production elsewhere in the United States.
“We have a greater share of the national and world apple supply, which allows us to take advantage of other peoples’ absence from the market,” he said.
The association says 11.4 million boxes of Washington apples were shipped in December, topping the record set in November of 11.2 million boxes. The previous record for monthly sales was December 2008, with 10.7 million boxes.
Through Jan. 16, the state had shipped 42 million boxes of apples, almost 40 percent of what is likely to be shipped to the fresh market from the 2010 crop.
Washington has more than 60 million boxes in storage. Nationally, fresh apple holdings numbered 78.5 million boxes as of Jan. 1, according to the U.S. Apple Association.
While the national apple crop is down, so is production in other parts of the world.
Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said exports are up to Asia as well as to the Middle East, normally a region where European producers prevail.
Pricing of fruit has stabilized since early in the marketing season. Kelly said average prices for all varieties, grades and sizes was at $20.13 per 40-pound box. The average price is $2 per box higher than last year and at the same level as two seasons ago.