MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Washington apple growers are celebrating a stellar crop this year

Nov 15, 2023, 11:07 AM

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Workers pick apples during the early weeks of the annual harvest season. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

(Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Thanks to the favorable weather, the state of Washington will produce around 134 million cartons of apples this year, according to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA). That is about 30 million more than last year.

“In 2022, we had a much smaller crop because of the cool weather in the spring that interfered with pollination, we even had snow while trees were blooming, which does not lend itself to good bee activity,” Jon DeVaney, the association’s president, told KIRO Newsradio.

He said last year’s challenges were compounded by another difficult summer in 2021 when the state experienced triple-digit temperatures during a heat dome.

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“Having had two really rough weather years, the weather has been very cooperative for us this year,” DeVaney said.

Washington is home to more than 30 varieties of apples. Some of them year-round mainstays, some more experimental new varieties, and others that fall somewhere in between. This year, the WSTFA forecast shows the Gala variety as the largest portion of the total production at 19.8%, Honeycrisp is at 14.6% and Granny Smith stands at 13.8%. Red Delicious is projected at 13% and Fuji stands at 11.7%. Cosmic Crisp, a proprietary variety grown only in Washington, continues to grow in its share of the total crop, with 5.9% of the harvest, according to the organization.

Washington leads the way in apple production

Due to Washington’s unique climate, DeVaney said the Evergreen State is a prime location for apple growing.

“We produce about 66% of the nation’s fresh apples, but we also produce the vast majority of the nation’s organic apples,” DeVaney said. “Over 94% of the nation’s organic apples are from Washington.”

Apples are Washington’s leading agricultural commodity by production value, representing 21% of the state’s total agricultural value in 2021.

DeVaney stated growers are hard at work developing and cultivating new varieties year round. Doing so can reduce the risk of weather adversely affecting the crop in the future — and extend the picking season.

“Our industry has changed a great deal in the last 20 years from really being reliant on just a couple of older legacy varieties like Red Delicious and Golden Delicious,” DeVaney said.

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The Honeycrisp is, by far, Americans’ current favorite choice of apple because of its crunchy texture and juicy center. According to the U.S. Apple Association, Honeycrisp production has increased by 46% during the past five years. Apples such as the Red Delicious have seen production drop by a similar figure.

In Washington, Honeycrisp stands at No. 2 behind the Gala. But many also eagerly await a new variety, WA 64, developed by researchers at Washington State University. The WA 64 is described as a “sweet, tart, firmly crisp hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink.”

Officially released for commercial licensing this past summer, the WA 64 is expected to reach stores in 2029.

Follow Kate Stone on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Washington apple growers are celebrating a stellar crop this year