KENNEWICK — Washington apple growers are expecting a bumper crop this year as workers begin harvesting the fruit from trees around the state.
Hail in July tempered initial expectations for a record-setting 120 million bushels of fresh apples. But this year’s crop of apples is still expected to be the state’s second largest, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.
The amount of fresh apples harvested is expected to be nearly 109 million bushels, the Tri-City Herald reported. It takes about 43 pounds to make a bushel.
Apple harvest runs into November, with different varieties being picked as harvest continues.
“The fruit quality looks good, fruit size looks good,” said David Douglas, a principal owner of Douglas Fruit Co. of Pasco. The company packs 10 varieties of apples grown by members of the Douglas family and other independent growers.
He noted that hail affected almost every apple growing region in the state. Despite that, it looks like a good marketing season for apples, Douglas said. Prices are good.
Fruit damaged by hail will go directly from the orchards to processors, said Douglas, who is also vice president of the Washington Apple Commission board.
Even those apples that make it into the fresh packing plant won’t head to grocery stores or be exported as fresh apples. They’ll end up as juice concentrate or peeled and sold as food ingredients.
“We are trying to grow fruit that will be sold on the fresh market,” because the returns are greater, Douglas told the Tri-City Herald.
Washington is the top apple grower in the nation, representing about 60 percent of U.S. fresh apples. Apples contribute about $7 billion to the state’s economy each year, Fryhover said.
Statewide, there are about 162,000 acres of apple orchards, mostly following the rivers of Eastern Washington.
Growers like to color-pick apples, but they may tell workers to pick all the apples on a tree at once, depending on labor availability and weather, Douglas said.
Once picked, an apple enters Douglas Fruit Co.’s packing plant in a bin. It’s washed, waxed and stickered and then packed in a cardboard boxes and cooled down. It will be transported by refrigerated truck or an ocean container depending on where it is headed.
Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious and Granny Smith represent the largest volume, Douglas said.