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Washington apricot production dropped by half due to last winter’s late cold snap

Apricot production in Washington was down this year after a cold snap in February and March damaged blossoms.
Apricot production in Washington was down this year after a cold snap in February and March damaged blossoms.

The late cold temperatures of last winter had big consequences for apricots, dropping production by half.

B.J. Thurley, Washington State Fruit Commission president, said the state normally produces around 5,000 tons of apricots, but this season the yield was 2,500 tons.

That may not seem like a lot, but Washington accounts for 20% of apricot production in the United States.

Apricots bloom earlier than other tree fruit, Thurley explained. When frost came in February to the Yakima Valley and other apricot-growing areas in the state that rarely see temperatures dip below freezing that time of year, no other tree fruit had bloomed, leaving those crops unharmed.

Apricots produced in Washington are shipped all over the country, but rarely leave North America. The Washington Apricot Marketing Committee, of which Thurley is the business manager, said the fruit that did make it to market met U.S. Department of Agriculture grades and standards.

The marketing committee’s budget is about $8,000. It comes from a small fee paid by farmers on each ton of apricots produced. As a result of the low yield, the USDA published an order to the Federal Register on Wednesday to increase the committee’s assessment rate from $1 per ton to $2.86 per ton. The order has a 30-day comment period.

Ric Valicoff, owner of Valicoff Fruit Co., said his apricot yield was 350 tons this year, compared to 800 tons the year before. He attributes this drop to frost in early February. Though his company grows apricots in different areas, it has its biggest footprint in the Yakima Valley, where growers have around 75 acres of apricots, with 13 varieties.

“Some of them are a little more susceptible and it beat up on those pretty bad to where a couple of them were almost blanked out,” Valicoff said. “We didn’t even pick those blocks, we just walked away from them. It wouldn’t be advantageous to go in and pick a few ’cots, the labor would eat you up alive.”

Some U-pick growers in Green Bluff produce apricots but were not affected, because the yields do not rise to the level of being covered under the Washington Apricot Marketing Committee, Thurley said.

Cherryshack Orchard had a great apricot season. Owner Brad Erovick said that tends to happen every three to four years at Green Bluff, and 2019 happened to be year three.

The Spokane area is not particularly known for its apricot production and does not have a commercial apricot farmer. The less predictable early springs don’t suit the stone fruit. However, apricots in Spokane bloom three to four weeks later, which meant Spokane’s crop dodged the late cold snap this go-around.

“On Green Bluff, you never rely on your apricots,” Erovick said. “Of all the crops we have, that one’s the one we lose the most.”

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