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THEM APPLES: Prices up, but Northwest apple growers aren’t grinning

An apple tree is covered in snow.
Hans Engelke
Hans Engelke’s orchards in north Franklin County, Washington, were inundated with snow in the early spring of 2022 during full bloom.

Northwest apples will be fewer, smaller and more expensive this year. Blame a cold spring, a challenging growing season. Farmers say they’re struggling under that darn inflation of everything.

This year Northwest apple growers are down about 20% from the boxes they picked last year.

Cold spring weather, a dry summer and an early cold snap didn’t leave a lot of growing room.

Washington state growers picked just a bit over 100 million, 40-pound boxes, this year. That’s quite a fall from what they picked last year. So what does that mean? It’s likely you’ll see smaller fruit in the stores this year.

In mid-April this year, a snow storm inundated orchards during bloom. And cold-snap weather at the end of harvest could affect packouts later in the season.

Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said the cold spring caused cell division in the tiny fruits to lag, which meant smaller ripe fruit.

“If you don’t get enough cell division early in the spring with enough heat in that early part of the year, then you essentially put an upper limit on how big some of that fruit will get,” DeVaney said.

Hurting a bit

Overall, Washington growers are hurting a bit, DeVaney said. Even though prices in the stores are higher – so are costs for fruit transportation, labor and inputs like fertilizer and tractor parts.

Living just costs more now. And going to the grocery store can seem like running the gauntlet through aisles of have-to-have items. But Northwest farmers say they aren’t seeing those extra dollars.

Farmers need huge tanks of fuel to get apples to storages and market. They need hundreds of seasonal workers all at the same time. They need loads and loads of fertilizers. And the price of everything has gone up. Add the short crop and smaller-sized fruit – and farmers say it’s a hard year.

Those in the apple business say costs of warehouses, land and water stay the same – no matter whether they pack 110 bins or 75 bins per acre off the same orchard.

Export woes

There are export woes, too: Shipping continues to be hitchy for mega-apple shippers, like Mac Riggan of Chelan Fresh out of Chelan, Washington.

Currency is devalued across the globe against the dollar, making Northwest apples higher priced, he said.

And stiff tariffs slapped on fruit in India – after the Trump Administration imposed tariffs on Indian steel – are crushing the once-robust red delicious export market.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.