State growers produced fewer apples of higher quality this year, and are hoping for bigger profits after two lean years.
“This is the year it’s all going to pay off,” said Jim Thomas, spokesman for the Washington Apple Commission.
The past two years have been hard for Washington apple growers, he said - crops worldwide have been large and returns have been low.
Industry officials say this could be one of the most profitable crops in recent years, barring unforeseen problems.
Washington’s crop this year is estimated at 84 million 42-pound boxes of apples, substantially less than last year’s record 93 million boxes. But yields have dropped even more elsewhere, which is expected to help boost prices.
Apples are the base of central Washington’s economy, providing more than $1 billion in gross returns to growers annually. About 30 percent of the state apple crop is exported.
An unusually cool summer provided an exceptional growing environment for the Red and Golden Delicious apples, said Dick Bartram, an independent apple consultant and retired manager of the Washington Apple Maturity Commission.
“From the standpoint of appearance, condition, storage and eating quality, this is the best crop of Goldens I’ve seen since 1991,” Bartram said.
Recent hot weather did not help the Red Delicious crop, but color, quality and condition of the Reds is still better than it has been in recent years, he said.
This year’s smaller crop - 7.8 percent smaller than last year’s - is also a relief for shippers.
“After two record crops in a row, we’ve got a smaller crop and (we’re) going into the year with great momentum and great condition,” said Charlie Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.
The European apple crop is expected to be down 11 percent from last year, and Mexico’s crop is estimated at only half of normal.
Mexico is one of Washington’s leading apple-export destinations. Sales to Mexico this past year dropped to 4 million boxes, half that of the previous year, due to devaluation of the peso.
“If Mexico can buy four million boxes on a bad year, it’s definitely a market worth keeping,” Thomas said.