Washington’s apple farmers are reporting lighter harvests in the early varieties than initially expected.
In August, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association forecasted a crop of 124.8 million 40-pound boxes of apples during the 2021 harvest. There is still plenty of time for an uptick in production, said Tim Kovis, spokesman for the association.
“We’ve seen in years past where later varieties have done the opposite,” Kovis said. “So it’s a little premature for this early when, like I said, a handful of varieties have come into the warehouse.”
Of the fruit that has been picked, he said, members are reporting better sized and colored fruit.
“When you’re growing fruit, you’re trying to grow based on the variety, primarily for a certain size and coloring to sell on the fresh market,” Kovis said.
Temperatures have cooled from the record-breaking heat in early July, and he said that has helped this year’s crop.
“The cooler nights have helped the fruit really rebound from that heat we had earlier this summer,” Kovis said. “But they are still picking lighter than they expected.”
Before the harvest began, growers expressed concern about a lack of workers. Kovis said he’s heard anecdotally from farmers who are still struggling to find enough workers for the harvest. One grower near Chelan that typically needs 12 pickers for the harvest could find only five.
“Based on how many workers you have, you base the decisions on when and what to pick. And you may not be picking the fruit at the optimal time that you want to,” he said. “Either pick it too early because you have the labor now and you may not have it later, or pick it late because you still need to recruit more workers.”
Kovis said it is still too early for the tree fruit association to make an updated general forecast, because weather and other factors will still impact the crop.