Sep 15, 2023
Harvests start with high hopes for apple season

Apple growers in Washington, Michigan and New York are optimistic for the 2023-24 fresh apple season.

With weather described as “near-perfect,” Washington dodged the heat and cold from the past two seasons. The U.S. Apple Association is projecting Michigan’s crop to be almost as high as last year’s record production. Overall, New York expects a quality, promotable crop even though a spring freeze and hail affected some areas and the USDA reported a mild winter followed by “a very warm spring.”

Apple Crop Estimate chart
Click to enlarge

Despite the record summer heat across the nation, growers aren’t reporting sunburn or issues with size.

The U.S. Apple Association, which released its annual report on Aug. 18, puts the overall U.S. crop at 256.26 million 42-pound bushels.

Washington: Back on track

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA) released its fresh apple crop forecast in early August, at about 134 million 40-pound boxes (127.62 million 42-pound boxes). That is a 28.8% increase from the previous year’s production, which was marred by snow during bloom, followed by hot weather and hail in some areas.

Apple harvests started in late July in Washington, with Michigan and New York picking by late August. Photo courtesy of Stemilt Growers.

The WSTFA doesn’t estimate production for the processing market. Both the USDA and USApple estimate overall production; using historical data that shows Washington’s fresh crop has been about 75% of the overall production, USApple is forecasting a fresh crop of almost 120 million bushels, with a total crop of about 160 million 42-pound bushels, a 9% increase from 2022-23.

Brianna Shales, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Washington, said the

2021 and 2022 springs were wild, but characterized this season’s weather as “really remarkable.”

“We’re looking ahead to a great year,” Shales said. “Last year was challenged, with the volume of the crop down, kind of to a historical low, and quality was challenged from a Washington perspective.”

Harvest started in late July for Stemilt with Rave, early Honeycrisps and Wildfire Galas.

“The color of the fruit is just fantastic and the sizing is really strong,” she said. “I think sizing will be typical. We’ll have enough (smaller apples) for bags and some good bulk sizes as well.”

Tim Kovis, director of communications and events for the WSTFA, said weather conditions have been as ideal as growers could hope for this season.

“For everything our members have taken on the weather front over the last two years, this has been a much more ideal season for weather,” Kovis said.

At 19.8%, Galas lead production estimates, followed by Red Delicious (13%) and Honeycrisp (14.6%). Cosmic Crisp, grown only in Washington, continues to expand its share of the crop, with 5.9%, placing it 8th on the list. Shales said Cosmic Crisp experienced some drop this season, but volumes are still increasing as more trees come into production.

Michigan: A drop, but still a strong crop

With the record 32.38 million-box crop for 2022-23, Michigan was able to fulfill some of the retail needs left by Washington’s absence.

Although the USDA estimated a Michigan crop of 27.38 million boxes, USApple’s estimate is almost 17% higher, at 32 million.

Ginger Gold apples are the second variety harvested in Michigan, behind Paula Reds. Photo courtesy of Riveridge Produce Marketing.

Shelby Babcock, marketing and sales specialist for Applewood Fresh Growers LLC, Sparta,

Michigan, said this has been another “great year for production.”

Harvest started the week of Aug. 21, with Raves, closely followed by Premier Honeycrisp and SweeTango apples.

“Depending on the variety, sizing has been varying with bag and tray-pack fruit, allowing us to give our customers different packing options,” Babcock said.

Harvest for Sparta-based Riveridge Produce Marketing apples started the week of Aug. 21 as well, with apples expected to enter storage rooms by mid-September, said Justin Finkler,

operations manager for the company, which markets about 60% of the state’s fresh apples from 160 growers.

“We’ve had some really timely rains here, so I think size is going to be really good,” Finkler said. “The fruit is clean. We didn’t have a lot of frost issues, the Ridge has not had any weather related issues, hail or anything, in our area, so the crop looks good.”

With few days when temperatures exceeded 90°, heat hasn’t been an issue. Some growers have applied sunburn protectants on high-value varieties, but that’s been limited.

New York: Despite freeze, promotable volumes

Cynthia Haskins, president and CEO of the New York Apple Association, said weather issues will lower the state’s production this season.

“We did have some isolated frost damage, but the good news is that it was isolated,” Haskins said. “Overall, we’re looking at a good, promotable crop.”

Harvest started in late August in the Hudson Valley with Ginger Golds and Paula Reds. The western New York harvest follows, and then central upper New York and the Adirondacks.

Haskins said she’s hearing that Honeycrisp volume will be down, but how much isn’t known.

The USDA’s pre-season 2023-24 forecast, released Aug. 11, was for a total production of 26.19 million 42-pound boxes, compared to 32.26 million last season. According to the USDA, that’s the lowest overall crop in New York since the 2012 growing season.

USApple, however, projects New York at 28 million boxes.

“In New York, a mild winter that weakened the cold hardiness of the apple crop followed by a very warm spring has caused the expected production to be the lowest since 2012,” according to the USDA report.

Haskins and several apple growers, however, said their expectations don’t agree with that low of a number.

Brett Baker, president of United Apple Sales, Lyndonville, New York, said the freeze affected Honeycrisps and SnapDragons, and production of those will be down.

“While the freeze damaged the appearance on Honeycrisp and SnapDragon, we still expect a

large crop in western New York,” he said. “I can’t speak for the state as a whole, but United Apple Sales expects 90% of a crop to come in from our grower partners.”

Doug Grout, co-owner of Golden Harvest Farms in Columbia County, said his production was “hit hard” by the mid-May freeze. He said the damage occurs in two ways.

“Firstly, the cold killed much of our crop in just a few hours of early morning freeze,” he said. “Secondly, most of the fruit that survived is damaged with frost ring, cold split (scarring), and/or lacking seeds.”

— Chris Koger, managing editor

Top photo: Apples on the packing line at Stemilt Growers’ Olds Station facility in Wenatchee, Washington. Photo courtesy of Stemilt Growers.


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