(June 28) With the harvest looming, there are mixed opinions among California grower-shippers whether the 2006 apple crop will be as large as last year’s crop. But most agreed prices for extra fancy early galas will be more than $30 a box.

Andy Poteete, salesman for Bidart Bros. Marketing Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., said the per box price for early galas would be in the low $30s, which he said is about the price galas brought early in the 2005 season.

On June 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices for the Yakima-Wenatchee district for cartons of controlled-atmosphere storage red delicious 72s-88s were $18-20. Cartons of controlled-atmosphere golden delicious 72s were selling for $16-18, 88s for $16 and 100s for $14-16.

Poteete said color for south San Joaquin Valley apples would be better than the 2005 crop. Volume, he said, should be about the same as last year. The 2005 California crop was 3.48 million boxes.

Poteete said he expects Bidart Bros.’ gala harvest to begin in late July or early August, with the picking of granny smiths beginning the third week in August.

George Rossi, salesman for Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif. said a mild spring produced ideal growing conditions.

“That weather allowed the trees to catch up a bit with what we thought would be a season starting as much as three weeks late,” Rossi said.

He said the gala harvest for Crown Jewels Marketing would begin August 10.

Rossi said the 2005 crop delivered good color and the 2006 crop should be just as good.

Rossi said he expects Crown Jewels to begin harvesting fujis in mid-September while the harvest for its Pink Lady apples would begin in early October.

Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Apple Commission, said the state lost about 1,000 acres of apple production in the past year. But he said about half of that acreage was replanted or grafted with earlier varieties of galas and fujis.

Housing developers also are an issue, Ott said. Since the 2005 crop, some growers have sold orchards to developers for as much as $300,000 an acre, he said.