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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2023 Washington apple harvest starts strong

An apple worker holds a piece of fruit he picked on Oct. 20, 2017, in an orchard north of Manson, Wash. Growers are experiencing excellent conditions for the 2023 harvest, industry officials said.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Washington apple growers are having a near bumper crop, according to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

Industry officials blamed dismal production in 2022 on a cold spring and early snowfall. The current estimate puts the 2023 production about 29% higher than last year and 5% more than the average of the previous six years.

Based on growers’ reports, the state organization said moderate weather has fostered high-quality fruit among several varieties, association president Jon DeVaney said.

“There’s a tendency across the consumer landscape that people want a lot of choices,” DeVaney said.

“And so what we’re seeing is demand for more variety and for organic apples. Production is reflecting those consumer preferences.”

This year, the state Tree Fruit forecast shows the Gala variety as the largest portion of the total production at 19.8%,

Red Delicious is projected at 13%, Honeycrisp at 14.6%, Granny Smith at 13.8% and Fuji at 11.7%.

Cosmic Crisp, a proprietary variety grown only in Washington state, continues to grow in its share of the total crop, with 5.9% of the harvest, the organization said.

But Cosmic Crisp apples are not the only special thing about the Washington industry.

DeVaney said the state produces more organic apples than any other in the country.

And it’s not even close.

“Our growers have a long tradition of meeting consumer demand and they are proving it again by producing more than 93% of the country’s organic apple output,” DeVaney said.

The organic forecast for 2023 is 15.7% of the state-wide harvest.

Washington has a unique climate that allows for such robust-organic apple production, DeVaney said.

“Other wetter climates affect appearance of the apples and (it’s) why in some areas organic apples are known for being a little ugly,” he said.

Apple harvest typically begins in August and continues into November.

As a result, the forecast is still subject to several months of variable weather, which can affect the final harvest total, the association said.

In addition to weather, DeVaney said the fire season may also impact production estimates because of the hazardous conditions smoke could cause for field workers.

“They’re out there doing it by hand and they can’t really be if smoke is in the air,” DeVaney said.

If conditions decline, growers may limit outside exposure or deploy personal-protective equipment to help protect field workers.

“There are particular time frames when things have to be done, but making sure workers are protected is something that our industry is working toward,” he said.

Apples are Washington’s leading agricultural commodity by production value, according to the association.

Apples represented 21% of the state’s total agricultural value in 2021.

Some 20% of the harvest was exported in 2022, down from the five-year average of 28% as a result of the lower overall production, according to association records.