(Sept. 5) WENATCHEE, Wash. — Near-perfect winter, spring and summer weather was the warm-up act for what Washington grower-shippers said will be an apple crop with excellent quality.

The industry forecast of 95 million cartons is down slightly from the 2006-07 deal, and many grower-shippers said the estimate could be a bit optimistic. Sizes could be a bit smaller this year, too, they said.

Among the mainstream varieties, the red delicious and fuji crops are expected to shoulder the bulk of the shortfall. On a brighter note, more acreage of the club, or managed, varieties is coming into production.

Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, expects volume of about 40,000 cartons of its ambrosias, said Robb Myers, domestic sales manager. Another 200,000 cartons of the variety will be coming from B.C. Tree Fruit Ltd., Kelowna, British Columbia, he said.

The upcoming season marks the third year Columbia Marketing has been selling the ambrosias. Myers said the company expects to double its volume next year as more orchards come into production.

Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, began marketing the sonja variety three years ago, said Steve Reisenauer, sales manager.

“It’s doing better and better,” he said. “It’s been very well accepted, and we have high hopes for that apple.”

Reisenhauer said the volume of sonjas, a red delicious-gala hybrid, for Sage Fruit this season will be 75,000 to 100,000 cartons.

As for mainstream variety prices, Yakima Valley and Wenatchee district red delicious per-carton f.o.b.s reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 4, found the market steady with the larger sizes, 72-88s at $16-18. It was the first report for 2007 galas with 72s going for $24-26, 80-88s at $22-24 and 100s at $18-20.

Those prices are lower than year ago f.o.b.s. On Sept. 11, 2006, the USDA reported red delicious per-carton prices at $24 for 72s-88s while 100s were at $20-22.

Per-carton prices for galas were $26-28 for 72s-80s while 88s were going for $24-26 and100s were at $20.

The growing demand for its honeycrisp variety was the catalyst for changing the name of the company from Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee, to Honey Bear Fruit Tree Marketing, said president Randy Steensma.

“Honeycrisp apples are going to be a big part of our business,” he said.

Honey Bear Fruit Tree Marketing’s volume for all varieties this season will be about three million cartons, Steensma said. The company sells mainstream varieties and also markets two other club varieties, jazz and pacific rose, he said.

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, is the primary marketing agent for the jazz and pacfic rose varieties. Only growers licensed by Oppenheimer can produce the varieties, said Rick Derrey, North American coordinator for New Zealand-based Enzafruit Products Inc.

“There’s a waiting list of 50 Washington growers who want to grow the jazz and pacific rose varieties,” Derrey said.