Coming off a summer of strong demand in 2011, California growers hope to solidify their niche in the apple industry with the new crop.

About 16,000 acres were in production in the Golden State in 2011-12, up 5% to 7% over the year before, said Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Apple Commission.

“We’re really happy to see more galas, grannies and fujis going back into the ground,” Ott said. “Overall, the industry is updating. A lot of the older galas are being taken out. We’re seeing more acreage and more production with higher-density plantings.”

The upcoming deal is expected to equal last year’s production.

“We’ll be around the same,” Ott said. “It might be flat this year, and then we’ll definitely see some increase as old acreage comes out.”

California growers are moving to newer varieties for fujis as well as galas.

“We’ll never be as big as Chile or Washington, but if we can sell that void between them, that’s fantastic,” Ott said. “Pick ’em, pack ’em, ship ’em and get out of the way — that’s our goal.”

Galas typically start shipping in late July and run through mid-September. The granny smiths hit volume in August, followed by fujis in September and cripps pink in October.

Like a lot of California commodities, apples’ arrival could be hastened by the dry winter.

“We’re running a little ahead of schedule just because of the weather,” Ott said. “The rains in March were our first real rains. Galas may move up a bit.”

Rich Sambado, sales manager of Primavera Marketing Inc., said the first gala blooms appeared March 21 in Stockton, Calif. — where his company is based — Modesto, Linden and Lodi.

“Bloom weather looks outstanding,” Sambado said. “We’ll have a nice supply of all varieties, particularly galas and grannies.”

Sambado took stock of last year’s market after selling his last cripps pinks in early January.

“We just completed the best apple season of our lives,” he said in March. “We had great quality, and the U.S. was short on apples. Chile had smaller sizes more suited for Europe — 100s, 113s — and Washington’s crop came out shorter with size issues too. (Buyers) were out of apples by August.”

“We saw some of the best movement and prices we’ve seen in quite some time,” Ott said.

And this time around?

“I think we’re going to have a good start, but not last year’s start,” Sambado said.

Washington growers hope to put galas into controlled-atmosphere storage, but the variety doesn’t store well, he said.

“U.S. retailers should not be buying old crop,” Sambado said.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Andy Poteete, sales manager at Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bidart Bros. Marketing.