(Aug. 3) Spring hailstorms made a small dent in the Washington apple crop, but quality is good and quantities are expected easily to exceed last year’s.

And with the 2003 storage crop cleaning up well, grower-shippers look forward to profitable markets.

“If the hail had come after thinning, it could have been a problem,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash. “But it ended up being a non-issue. That’s hard to say if your farm was annihilated, but our quantities aren’t going to be seriously impacted.”

Stemilt will begin shipping ginger golds and galas in August, with red delicious and golden delicious following in September, Pepperl said. Braeburns, fujis and other varieties will follow in October, with pink ladys winding up the deal in November.

On Aug. 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $18 for cartons of Washington red delicious 72-88s from storage, up from $11-12 at the same time last year. Golden delicious 72s were selling for $26-28, up from $16-18 at this time in 2003.

Very good quality was expected in the new crop marketed by Rainier Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., said Suzanne Wolter, the company’s director of business development. Hail afffected about 5% to 10% of the 2004 crop, she estimated.

Rainier expected to ship most varieties about five to 10 days early this year, with ginger golds kicking off the deal around Aug. 1, Wolter said.

While this year’s crop promises to be significantly bigger than last year’s — about 12% to 15% bigger — it won’t hit the heights of a few years ago, maybe even of two years ago, said Charlie Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, Wenatchee.

The 2003 crop was, at around 78 million boxes, the smallest in 10-15 years. The 2004 crop should be in the 88-90 million range, Pomianek said.

“It will be a good crop, but not a record crop by any stretch of the imagination,” Pomianek said.

Isolated hailstorms aside, it’s been a perfect year weather-wise for apples, said Ken Helgeland, sales manager of Snokist Growers, Yakima. Plenty of chill hours in the winter and early spring gave way to a hot, windless growing season.

Helgeland predicted about a 10% increase over last year. And while it was too early to judge on sizing and color, Helgeland said that based on how the season has gone so far, there was nothing to suggest they would be anything but good.

Snokist’s apple deals will get underway about a week earlier than last year, Helgeland said.

Ginger golds began shipping around Aug. 4, galas were set for Aug. 12 and, in order, reds, grannys, fujis and braeburns will begin in earnest after Labor Day. Pink ladys will follow in late October.

Keith Matthews, general manager of the Selah office of L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., said a clean pipeline at home combined with a smaller East Coast apple deal meant good news for Washington grower-shippers.

L&M’s apples will be about a size bigger on average than last year’s apples, Matthews said — always good news in today’s bigger-is-better retail environment.