(Jan. 18) December apple shipments across the U.S. totaled 12.4 million bushels, surpassing the five-year average by 3%, and industry members expect strong movement to continue all season.

December 2004 movement was considerably higher, at 8% over this season’s shipments, but Jim Cranney, vice president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., attributed that to last year’s higher production. Washington produced a record 105-million bushel crop last year.

As of Jan. 1, fresh apple holdings in the U.S. were 76 million bushels, a 7% decrease from the 81.4 million bushels in storage at the start of 2004.

“Given the size of the crop, what we’ve seen qualitywise and the way it’s been holding up in storage, I think the industry is pretty optimistic the movement is matching up with what’s anticipated,” Cranney said.

Washington shippers entered the year with about 63.5 million bushels, down from the 71 million bushels on Jan. 1, 2005, said Charles Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, Wenatchee, Wash.

At the start of 2006, 35.2 million bushels had been shipped, or 36% of the crop, compared to the 34 million bushels, or 32% of the crop, shipped at the same time last year.

“It’s a little more (in terms of percentage) than last year, which we find encouraging,” Pomianek said. “Movement has stayed absolutely steady and strong.”

During the second week of January, Washington shippers matched their season-high weekly volume of 2.8 million bushels.

PRICES

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Jan. 17 reported granny smith apples from the Yakima and Wenatchee valleys in Washington were $16-18 for 72-88s, and $20-22 for size 80 and 88 Extra Fancy fujis. Golden delicious cartons from Michigan were $12-15 for 80-100s and cartons of Extra Fancy galas from Washington were $20-22 for 72s and 80s, and $13-14 for 113s.

In Michigan, packing line employees at Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, have been working longer hours to keep up with demand.

“We’ve been putting in a fair amount of overtime just to keep up,” said Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce. “I’m not going to say we want to it to slow down, but we are moving along.”

Winkel said if demand continues at this rate, he expects Greg Orchards to shut down for the season by mid-May. The company packed its last apples from the 2004 crop on June 6, 2005.

At $12-14 a bushel-carton, Washington’s red delicious apple f.o.b.s are lower than the $15-16 (a few at $18) for 100s and $14-16 for 113s from Michigan, according to the USDA on Jan. 17.

Jan. 1 red delicious holdings were almost 26 million bushels, a 9% decrease from a year ago and a 12% drop from the five-year average, according to the U.S. Apple Association.