(June 16) WENATCHEE, Wash. — Apples in storage across the country continue to fall greatly below the numbers usually held as summer approaches, and shippers expect a smooth transition to the upcoming fresh crop.

“It looks like we’re going to have the smoothest transition we’ve seen in a number of years, and it appears we’ll be clearing up just when the new crop comes in,” said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearinghouse, Wenatchee.

The Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s June 1 apple storage report put total fresh-market holdings at 14.4 million bushels, a 20% drop from the same time last year and a 29% decrease from the five-year June 1 average.

Washington apple shippers held the majority of those apples, with 12.1 million bushels, compared to 17.2 million last year.

About half of the remaining fresh-market apples were red delicious, at 7.1 million bushels, compared to the five-year average of 12.8 million bushels on hand on June 1.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable at this particular time of the year, compared to last year,” said Jim Cranney, vice president of the apple association. “Red delicious are down 45% compared to the five-year average, and golden delicious are down 41%.”

And yet, galas started the month with 336,000 bushels left in storage — 8 ½ times more than their five-year average.

“That has a lot to do with the emergence of that variety and how it’s grown over the past several years,” Cranney said. “There probably isn’t enough (of the gala variety) to go around right now because the demand for galas is really strong. The demand for all varieties is really strong, but I think it is worth noting the supply.”

On June 14, a carton of tray pack Washington red delicious apples was $16-18 for 72s, $16 for 80-88s and $15-16 for 100-125s; prices at the same time last year were $12 for 72-80s, $11-12 for 88s, and $10 for 113-125s. Mid-June prices for golden delicious were $24-26 for 72s, $22 for 88s and $16-18 for 125s.

From New York, June 14 f.o.b.s for cartons of controlled-atmosphere red delicious were $15-16 for 88s and $14-16 for 100s. In Michigan, the prices for size 100 red delicious was $13-14. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly report for New York and Michigan f.o.b.s was June 14.

The drop in overall supplies and increase in demand could even result in a tighter supply of red delicious than Washington shippers would like to see, Kelly said.

“We have the lion’s share of the varieties left over, but things are clearing up pretty good,” he said. “We’ll potentially be in a little light situation on the reds between the old crop and the new crop. It will be down to the wire. Last season, there was some carryover, but it’s not a big deal to have some reds going into September.”

Peter Gregg, spokesman for the New York Apple Association, Fishers, said many packers had finished their 2003-04 shipping by mid-June. As of June 1, New York shippers had the second-highest storage numbers, with 1.25 million bushels, a significant increase from the 384,000 bushels in storage at the same time last year, following wind and freeze problems that dropped production the previous year.

Michigan, which also saw a light crop because of the weather last season, is also winding down its season, said Brad Pitsch, plant manager for Belding Fruit Storage Inc., Belding. Last year, the company ended its season in mid-March, three months before the expected wrap-up of the 2003-04 season.