(July 31, 4:11 p.m.) With Washington apple grower-shippers expecting very strong demand for the start of the 2008-09 season, similar in size to last year’s crop, retailers may have to scale back ads or risk running short on supplies.

Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., expects to begin shipping goldens Aug. 15, galas Aug. 20 and fujis Sept. 7, said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing.

Deals are running about 7 to 10 days later than last year because of cold spring weather, which affected pollination, she said.

Ginger golds should begin shipping in early August, with galas following in the third week of August, about a week or two later than usual, predicted Doug Pauly, operations manager for Northern Fruit Co., East Wenatchee, Wash.

Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, expects to begin shipping galas the third week of August, golden delicious the first week of September and red delicious the third week of September, about a week behind schedule, said Bob Mast, marketing director.

By the time Washington gets going, the supply pipeline should be as empty as it’s been in years, promising very strong markets, Wolter said.

Because of that, she said, it will be very important for retailers to communicate closely with suppliers, to ensure there’s enough product to supply ads this season.

Perfect growing weather in mid-summer forecast a high-quality crop, with fruit sizing about a size smaller than last year because of the bloom loss in spring, Mast said. Supplies could be particularly tight for 80-88s this season, he said.

“We’re asking retailers to remain flexible,” he said. “There could be a chance for more bagged promotions this year.”

Pauly also predicted a very strong season, at least at the beginning.

“The pipeline is quite dry right now on almost every variety,” he said. “Markets should start strong and moderate as supplies pick up.”

On July 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $26-30 for carton tray packs of controlled-atmosphere red delicious 72-100s from Washington, up from $16-18 last year at the same time.

Carton tray packs of controlled-atmosphere granny smiths 72-88s from Washington were $24-28, up from $16-18 last year at the same time.

The low spring temperatures reduced the expected size of this year’s crop, Wolter said. The company expected to ship about 11-12 million cases in the season that is now winding up.

“We were initially expecting a bumper crop,” she said. “Now we’re looking at about the same size as last year.”

Rainier also is expecting fruit to size about 1 to 1½ times smaller than last year, she said.

Nevertheless, quality should be excellent on this year’s crop.

“Overall, the season has been very good for internal and external quality,” Wolter said.

Like the state’s cherry crop, the apple crop was delayed because of the cold weather, Pauly said.

Fortunately, he said, that’s where the similarities end.

“Unlike cherries, we have a very, very nice crop out there, in terms of volumes and quality,” he said.

Pauly expected a full range of small, medium and large fruit this season.