Bad weather might benefit Wash. apple growers

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SEATTLE (AP) — First, warm spring weather in the Northeast and Midwest tricked apple trees into budding earlier. Then an untimely frost damaged the delicate blossoms.

For apple farmers in producing states like New York and Michigan, this has been a forgettable year, with severe declines in production of as much as 90 percent.

But it is amounting to a boon for Washington state growers, who are already in the midst of a near record harvest, and now looking forward to higher demand and prices for their produce.

“If we can get this fruit harvested, it’s a perfect storm for Washington,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Apple Growers Association. “We could have a banner year for returns and profitability for our industry, but only time will tell.”

Washington is likely to have a harvest of 108 million bushels, its second highest number on record, industry representatives said. A bushel is a 40-pound box of apples.

The main variables still looming: a possible shortage of pickers and unpredictable weather at the end of the harvest season.

Usually, Washington’s apple farmers need about 40,000 workers to harvest their huge crop, said Kirk Mayer of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association. This year, Fryhover said, growers are reporting a shortage of roughly 10 to 15 percent shortage.

On a brighter note, this year’s summer has been “perfect” with warm temperature and spring was mild with nearly no frosts, Fryhover said. “We’re seeing our fruit’s sizes get larger as harvest continues.”

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