(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 20) Apple supplies east of the Mississippi should be tighter than usual heading into spring and summer, grower-shippers and industry officials say.

If current shipping trends continue, Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co. could finish by May or June, two or three months earlier than usual, said John Rice, vice president.

“If things continue, we’ll finish quite a bit earlier than we have the last few years,” Rice said.

Demand and movement have been at near-record levels this season, said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“We’re going through them pretty quickly,” he said. “In general, shippers will be exiting (the deal) considerably earlier this year.”

Many New York shippers will be done before June, and by the end of that month, supplies will  “really be petering out,” Allen said.

Markets were beginning to creep up in January, and with the combination of low supplies and rising fuel costs, Allen said upward momentum would likely continue in coming weeks.

On Jan. 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15-17 for cartons of 12 3-pound film bags of red delicious apples, minimum 2 ½ inches, from New York, up from $14-16 last year at the same time. Cartons of gala 100s from Michigan were $22-24, up from $18-20 last year. 

Markets could strengthen in coming months as other eastern shippers exit the deal even earlier than Rice Fruit Co., Rice said.

“A lot of houses are indicating they’re going to be finishing in March or April,” he said.

In Michigan, meanwhile, Benton Harbor-based Greg Orchards & Produce Inc. expects to wind down in by about the end of January, said  Barry Winkel, general manager.

In 28 years, Winkel said he can recall only one season that ended earlier. Last season, the company shipped steady volumes through mid-June, he said.

Demand, color, overall quality and sizing have been good, though, Winkel said, though red delicious apples have been a bit larger than Greg Orchards would like, with a large percentage of 72s and 88s.
Most Michigan shippers will wind down between late March and early June, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee. 

Rice Fruit Co. expects to run out of galas and mcintoshes in early to mid-February, Rice said. The company’s top three varieties for the duration of the deal will be, in order, red delicious, golden delicious and fuji, he said.

Rice reported good quality and size in mid-January, with few small apples still left to ship. Allen also said quality was good and that shippers had plenty of big apples still to ship.

The shortages in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York are opening marketing windows for growers in Washington, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.

“We have a near-record crop, so we can step in even earlier than normal,” Queen said.

Markets east of the Mississippi that normally would open up for Washington shippers in late winter have already begun asking for fruit, he said.

As of mid-January, about 64 million cartons of fresh-market Washington apples had yet to be shipped, up from 60 million cartons last season at the same time, said Charles Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.