Washington Apple Facts
- Nearly 200,000 acres of orchards are nestled in the eastern foothills of the picturesque Cascade Mountains.
- Orchards thrive at elevations from 500 to 3,000 feet above sea level, where they are irrigated with plentiful and cool mountain water.
- The average size of an orchard is approximately 100 acres, but some cover as many as 4,000 acres.
- As many as 45,000 workers carefully handpick apples to prevent bruising.
- Apple varieties include Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala and many others.
- An apple tree takes 4-7 years to reach its full production potential.
- Washington State apples are grown for the fresh market with only 20% of the crop being diverted to the processor market.
- Processor apples are diverted from the fresh apple channel due to defects such as; poor color, shape or other cosmetic defects.
Four Seasons for Every Apple
Winter: A critical resting period for trees
- Trees need about 1,000 hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to produce fruit buds for the next season.
- Pruning takes place while trees are resting, keeping them healthy and allowing sunlight to reach the leaves in spring.
Spring: Orchards buzz with life
- By mid-March orchards become an endless sea of blossom clusters.
- Growers rent a billion additional bees to help resident bees pollinate the Pacific Northwest apple crop.
- The King bloom opens 2 to 3 days before the side blooms, giving bees an opportunity to pollinate it first.
- Once open, the side blooms are sprayed with a bee-friendly thinner to prevent pollination, resulting in one large, well-shaped apple instead of 5 little ones.
- During cold snaps, growers use wind machines to prevent frost from settling and destroying the crop.
Summer: Protecting growing fruit
- The use of sprays on the Pacific Northwest apple crop is lower than in any other commercial fruit region in America due to the unusually low insect population.
- Growers use integrated pest management, a fancy term for letting good bugs eat the bad ones.
- Apples are closely monitored during pre-harvest to ensure they are picked when their sugar, size, color and crispness are just right.
Fall: Harvest to storage
- Approximately 15 billion apples are picked by hand beginning mid-August through late November.
- Washington State is the only growing region that mandates internal pressure (firmness) standards for marketed apples.
- Apples are placed either in cold storage or controlled-atmosphere storage, where oxygen is removed, putting the apples to sleep for longer-term storage.
Smart Fresh® is now added to the atmosphere in many storage facilities to delay ripening. Smart Fresh®temporarily stops apples from producing ethylene and from responding to external sources of ethylene. The plant substance ethylene, is key to ripening, aging and eventual spoilage of many fruits and vegetables.
Apples for every taste and ingredient use
Since apples are grown primarily for the fresh market, consumers‘ buying trends dictate the kind of apples that are planted and grown. As indicated by the graph below, Red Delicious apples dominated the fresh market until 1997, when consumers’ preferences changed to favor other varieties, such as Fuji and Gala. Our staff continually reviews data on apple varieties grown in the U.S., which allows us to recommend changes to our customers.
Red Delicious Attributes:
Description: Heart-shaped, bright red, snacking favorite
Golden Delicious Attributes:
Description: Delicate yellow, all-purpose
Description: Pinkish-orange stripes over a yellow background, appropriate for all applications
Availability: January-June, September-December
Description: Big, reddish-pink, immensely flavorful, appropriate for all applications
Availability: January-August, October-December
Granny Smith Attributes:
Description: Green, crisp – a favorite for pies and appropriate for all applications
2019 Regional and Varietal Estimates
Under ideal circumstances, the U.S. varietal mix is reasonably distributed across producing regions, and varietal supplies are enough to support fresh-market and processing-apple demand for any specific variety. As consumer tastes and market conditions evolve, the industry has historically sought to adjust to those evolving demand situations.
Total Western production is forecast to increase by 7 percent from 2018 and will be 3 percent above the five-year average for that region. The production of Red Delicious in Washington State relative to other varieties is expected to continue to decrease while other varieties such as Gala, Cripps Pink and Honeycrisp will continue to increase their share of overall production. Reflecting the overall 2019 crop size, the production volume for Gala is expected to increase by 5 percent while Fuji volume is projected to increase by 11 percent.
U.S. Apple Top Varieties
- Red Delicious – production of this variety has experienced a 32% decline since 2014
- Granny Smith
- Honey Crisp – production of this variety has increased 77% since 2014
- Golden Delicious – production of this variety has experienced a 43.8% decline since 2014
Source: USDA & US Apple Association