Washington apples are bringing in high prices this year, despite being the state's largest ever apple crop.
Smaller harvests in the rest of the United States and in Europe have helped pump up the price for Washington's 2012 crop of almost 130 million, 40-pound boxes, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House.
"We've had record shipments, which we need to make it through," he said.
Because of a "perfect storm," Washington's record apple crop has come at a time when the competition has fewer apples than normal to offer, Kelly said. Quality and size also have been good.
Despite Washington's apple boom, the U.S. is having its smallest crop in 26 years, Kelly said. Washington typically provides about two-thirds of the nation's apples. Michigan and New York, the only other two big U.S. apple growers, suffered crop losses last year.
Washington's 2012 crop was about 19 percent larger than Washington's former record crop of 109 million boxes.
Apples, Washington's, top commodity, were worth about $1.83 billion in 2011, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. And Washington orchards produced 108 million boxes that year, the fourth most ever.
Benton and Franklin counties have more than 19,000 acres of apple orchards, according to the USDA.
Demand for Washington apples for processing also is up because of smaller harvests in the Midwest and East Coast.
So far, about 12.2 million boxes have gone to processors to be peeled or made into juice, according to the USDA. That is about 27 percent more than the 9.6 million boxes sold to processors for the same period in 2011.
Weather statewide was overall favorable for apples, despite some hail damage.
"The weather was ideal for harvest," Kelly said.
The crop estimate will continue to vary until the end of the shipping year in September, said Jon DeVaney, the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association's executive director.
About 55 percent of the 2012 crop has shipped so far, Kelly said. That level is about normal, but because the crop is larger, the number of apple boxes shipped is higher.
A shortage of available trucks meant fewer apples were shipped around the Christmas season than could have been, Kelly said. But that problem has eased.
Weekly shipments of apples have been very good, with close to 3 million boxes being shipped each week, DeVaney said.
"We have an adequate supply to keep apples on every supermarket shelf in the country for the rest of the year," he said.
A 40-pound box of apples is going for $26.41 for all varieties right now. That compares to $22.97 last year and $20.02 two years ago.
Growers should be doing OK this year, Kelly said.
Labor and fuel costs continue to increase, making it more costly for farmers to grow and harvest apples, he explained.
"It is a good year for growers, but they also need one," Kelly said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org