Washington State Tree Fruit Association releases 2023 forecast with a return to normal volumes and high quality fruit predicted

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA) has released its forecast for the 2023 Washington state fresh apple crop will the full crop estimated at just over 134m cartons (18kg) of fresh apples.

Image: Washington Apple Commission

This represents a 28.8 per cent increase from 2022’s 104.3m cartons, a much smaller than normal that was a result of a very cold spring, with snow that inhibited pollination during bloom.

This year, moderate weather has helped growers deliver a healthy crop much closer (5 per cent above) to the previous six-year average production. This return to historic norms is also seen in growers’ reports of good size distribution and expected high quality across all varietals. The forecast also illustrated the continued trend of varietal diversification, including Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, Envy and Cosmic Crisp, with this four alone representing more than a quarter of forecast production.

“There is a lot of excitement as we are seeing a more normal harvest and excellent fruit quality this year,” said Jon DeVaney, president of WSTFA . “A moderate spring and a warm early summer created near-perfect growing conditions, so our domestic and foreign customers are going to see great size, color, and overall good quality in our apples. The harvest is just getting underway now, and our growers look forward to bringing in a great harvest that will benefit consumers around the state, country, and world.”

The WSTFA forecast indicates a robust production in five popular varietals. Gala represents the largest part of the harvest at 19.8 per cent, Red Delicious is projected at 13 per cent, followed by Honeycrisp at 14.6 per cent, Granny Smith at 13.8 per cent, and Fuji at 11.7 per cent of total production. Cosmic Crisp, a proprietary varietal grown only in Washington state continues to grow in its share of the total crop, with 5.9 per cent of the harvest. This reflects the ongoing diversification of the state’s apple production to serve a diverse and growing customer base.

Washington apples are vital to the state’s economy and are its leading agricultural commodity by production value. Apples represented 21 per cent of the state’s total agricultural value in 2021. Twenty percent of the harvest was exported in 2022, down from the five-year average of 28 per cent due to lower overall production in 2022.

The organic apple market continues to grow, and Washington also leads the nation in the production of organic apples. The organic forecast for 2023, is 21m cartons, or 15.7 per cent of the total harvest. It should be noted that not all organic production is packed and marketed as organic and WSTFA members are always working on new strategies and techniques to deliver fresh, healthy apples.

“Our growers have a long tradition of meeting consumer demand and they are proving it again by producing more 93 per cent of the country’s organic apple output,” added DeVaney.

Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture said it was great for the state and for consumers around the world that  growers have rebounded from a down year with a strong, healthy crop in 2023.

“More importantly, thanks to moderate weather the quality of apples is exceptionally high. Apples are Washington state’s calling card to every corner of the globe. This year, we are literally putting our best crop forward and that’s good for our state economy, our workforce, and our growers,” said  Sandison.

This forecast is based on a survey of WSTFA members and represents the best estimate of the total volume of apples that will eventually be packed and sold on the fresh market (excluding product sent to processors). Apple harvest typically begins in August and continues into November, and as a result, this forecast is still subject to several months of variable weather which can affect the final harvest total.