(Oct. 8, 4:03 p.m.) A perfect storm of market conditions — strong consumer demand, a near-empty pipeline and hail damage in major growing areas — has created red-hot apple markets for U.S. grower-shippers.

On Oct. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $24-26 for carton tray packs of red delicious 72-88s from Washington, up from $17-18 last year at the same time.

Cell packs of mcintosh 100s from New York were $27-30, up from $23-25 last year at the same time, and tray-packs of 100 honeycrisps were $50-55.

Cartons of 12 3-pound film bags of galas from Michigan were $21-23, up from $18-20 last year at the same time.

“Everything is off to a very rapid start,” said Bob Mast, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash. “Customers are scrambling for every variety as soon as they can get it.”

Mast attributed that to several factors, including that summer apple imports are down about 40% because of the weak dollar and that the Washington storage crop cleaned up exceptionally quickly this year.

“There was a huge vacuum sound (prior to this year’s domestic fresh deals),” he said. “The pipeline was empty.”

In the first week of October, Columbia Marketing was shipping red delicious, golden delicious, galas, granny smiths, ambrosias and honeycrisps in volume, with cameos, jonagolds, braeburns and Pink Ladys beginning to come off later in the month, Mast said.

Mast reported good quality on all varieties, with particularly good quality on goldens, many of which are showing blush and minor russeting.

And while sizing had been a concern of many Washington growers because of a major bloom loss in the spring, it’s turning out to be not as much of an issue as first thought, Mast said.

Meanwhile, markets for California-grown grannys, galas and braeburns were as hot as they’ve ever been at the beginning of the season, said Atomic Torosian, partner in Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif.

That changed quickly, however, when Washington started shipping in volume, Torosian said.

“As we got through the first third of our grannys, the market nosedived,” he said. “When the Northwest came in, things slowed way down.”

By October, the company was pinning much of its hopes on Pink Ladys, which began harvesting the first week of the month, Torosian said.

Early markets for Pink Ladys were strong, with prices in the high $30s or low $40s, Torosian said.

Meanwhile, hail-damaged crops in New York and Michigan spelled strong markets for many shippers in the East, said Brenda Briggs, marketing director for Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.

The locally grown movement also has helped Eastern growers, Briggs said.

“Demand has been tremendous,” she said. “We’re optimistic markets will stay strong because of reduced crops across the country.”

According to the USDA reports on Oct. 7, cartons of U.S. extra fancy golden and red delicious from Pennsylvania were $26-27 for size 80-88, and the same size of galas were $31.

The increased popularity of tray packs continues to drive strong sales for Rice Fruit, Briggs said.

Briggs reported excellent quality, with sizing up one or two sizes on many varieties. The USDA reported red and golden delicious sizes were heavier on the 88-100s.

In the first week of October, Rice Fruit was shipping reds, goldens and empires with fujis, cameos and Pink Ladys expected to begin harvesting later in the month.