YAKIMA - Washington’s fresh apple crop is expected to be 18 percent larger than last year’s crop, with Gala truly taking the lead for production and Cosmic Crisp making its debut on the commercial market.
The Washington State Tree Fruit Association and Pear Bureau Northwest released their 2019 harvest forecasts last week. Cherry harvest is wrapping up for the season.
The 2019 forecast for fresh pack apples is 137.3 million standard, 40-pound boxes. That’s an 18 percent increase from last fall’s 116.7 million-box crop.
Tree fruit association members “are expecting an ample 2019 apple crop with a good mix of varieties for today’s market,” said Jon DeVaney, association president. “Favorable summer growing weather means that Washington growers are expecting a crop with excellent quality and finish.”
Last year, the association declared that Gala had overtaken Red Delicious for the No. 1 spot as the apple with highest production. That ended up being a premature prediction, but this year Gala will truly take the lead, said Tim Kovis, association spokesman.
“Gala will have a larger percentage than a year ago and will overtake Reds,” he said. “The last storage report showed Reds were still the largest” in 2018.
Despite some consumers’ disdain for Reds, which many people say have little flavor and tough skins, the apple industry is having no problem shipping the 2018 crop.
“A large percentage of Reds are exported. A lot go to Mexico, where there are some cultural ties” to the variety, Kovis said.
Once the 2019 crop comes off the trees, consumers can choose from many varieties.
Gala is projected to command 23 percent of production, with Red Delicious projected at 20 percent. Other top varieties are Fuji at 13 percent, Granny Smith at 12 percent, Honeycrisp at 12 percent and Cripps Pink/Pink Lady at 5 percent.
Organic apple production is forecast at 13 percent of the total, or 18.3 million boxes. The association noted that not all organic production ends up being packed and marketed as organic.
The forecast is based on a survey of association members and represents a best estimate of total volume that eventually will be packed and sold on the fresh market, excluding product sent to processors, association officials said.
Apple harvest typically begins in August and continues into November.
Some early apples - Ginger Gold and Gala among them - are being harvested already, said Kovis.
Cosmic Crisp debuts
And, for the first time, Cosmic Crisp will be in the commercial mix.
The apple, developed by Washington State University, is a cross between the Enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties. Trees were made available only to Washington growers, and Cosmic Crisp’s production is being tracked carefully.
It’s also the subject of a nationwide public relations campaign, with publications from California Sunday Magazine to Martha Stewart Living doing features on the apple.
“The large, juicy apple has a remarkably firm and crisp texture,” according to cosmiccrisp.com. “In addition to being delicious, it is slow to brown when cut and maintains its texture and flavor in storage for more than a year.”
An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisp are expected to be picked this fall.
It’s not in the forecast because the Washington State Tree Fruit Association relies on historical data to give growers context about different varieties, Kovis said.
“We will track it through harvest,” he said.
Early predictions indicate 2020 could see three million boxes of Cosmic Crisp produced, with double that number the following year.
That would take it close to “club variety” status, with its numbers then included in forecast figures, Kovis said. Club varieties are mainly proprietary types such as Ambrosia, Jazz or Juici.
“It could overtake some,” he said.
Many Washington growers are excited about Cosmic Crisp because it is similar in taste to one of its parents, Honeycrisp, but is not as delicate and has “overcome the storage problems” of that parent, Kovis said.
Pear estimate rises
On the pear front, Pear Bureau Northwest predicts around 18.6 million 42-pound boxes will be picked, 8 percent more than the initial crop estimate in May but 1 percent less than the 2018 harvest. The estimate is 1 percent higher than the five-year average.
“The increase from the initial estimate is due to the fruit sizing up very well in the last two months,” said Kevin Moffitt, present and CEO of Pear Bureau Northwest.
The bureau makes its predictions based on grower reports from Washington’s Wenatchee (including Okanogan County) and Yakima districts, and Oregon’s Mid-Columbia and Medford districts.
Growers report large, beautiful fruit on their trees with sizes that are in demand from retailers in the United States and Canada. With ample larger-sized pears, there also will be plenty of smaller fruit to fill the demand for bagged pears and for export markets that prefer smaller fruit, Moffitt said.
Some Bartletts are being harvested now, said Kovis.
Harvest will continue through September. Picking dates are later than last season, but close to the historical average, said Moffitt.
Starkrimson is another early variety, with Comice, Bosc, Forelle, Seckel and Anjou coming later.
Based on the estimates, Green Anjou will be the leading variety with 9.5 million standard boxes, or about 51 percent of total Northwest fresh pear crop, with Green Bartlett following at 4.8 million standard boxes or 26 percent of the total crop.
Bosc is next at 2.5 million boxes, or about 13 percent of the total crop, with an estimated 1.1 million standard boxes of Red Anjou accounting for 6 percent of the crop.
Organic pear numbers are included in the overall estimate and their numbers continue to grow with more acres in transition, said the bureau.
This year’s organic estimate is 1.9 million standard boxes, making up 11 percent of the total Northwest crop.
Looking at the entire organic crop, growers project 705,350 standard boxes of Green Anjou, with the Green Bartlett and Bosc crops sizes projected at 700,550 and 273,400 standard boxes, respectively.
Cherries almost done
Cherries are nearly all off the trees, although some later varieties are still being picked at higher elevations, Kovis said.
As of late last week, more than 20 million 20-pound boxes had been shipped. That’s close to the pre-harvest estimate of 21 million boxes.
“We still have a few more weeks of harvest,” Kovis said. “Domestic demand is strong.”
The season has been cool, with rain and wind - both of which usually strike fear in the hearts of cherry growers because they usually translate to split fruit if warm weather follows and damage from wind-generated rubbing. But rain has come mostly at night and wind helped shake water off the fruit, Kovis said.
“It’s a strong crop this year,” he said.