WENATCHEE, Wash. — After a record crop in 2010, the 2011 Washington apple crop is expected fall just short of the 109 million box high water mark.

Early industry estimates put the crop at about 106 million cartons, though the final packout could swell if fruit size is bigger than expected. Quality is expected strong, shippers agree.

“Usually the apple crop will tend to mirror the characteristics of the cherry crop, and cherries were outstanding,” said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Yakima-based Rainier Fruit Co.

The Washington crop size could hit close to 110 million boxes, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc.

Harvest timing was running 10 days to two weeks late, creating strong prices as the remaining storage supplies faded.

“We are a full week to 10 days behind last year, and last year was late,” said Tim Evans, general manager for Chelan Fresh in Chelan.

Galas were expected to start the week of Aug. 22. Golden delicious harvest was expected to begin about the first week of September, while red delicious weren’t expected to reach significant volume until the second week of September. Later varieties — notably, the cripps pink — were expected to come off until mid-November.

That late harvest could be a worry if apple country experiences early cold.

Pepperl said he thinks the biggest obstacle for the 2011-12 season may be the late start.

“It doesn’t mean the market won’t absorb it, but you never really make the time up,” he said.

Pepperl said that once apples are harvested, packing operations will be dialed up to capacity.

“Our goal is to get things in the box as quickly as possible so we can start getting the pipeline filled,” he said.

Pepperl said the pipeline will be filled until the first week of October. He said retailers are anxious for the new crop.

Fruit sizing of the 2011 crop is expected smaller than the 2010 crop, but how much smaller may depend on the variety and the effect of late season weather conditions.

“We have absolutely perfect growing weather in mid-August,” said Charlie Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.

Marketers expressed optimism about the new crop.

“We’re excited about finally having plenty of apples to put on the market,” said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers.

Honeycrisp are expected to see strong gains in the 2011 crop season. Pomianek said an industry estimate places the crop at 3.6 million cartons, up from 2.8 million cartons a year ago.

In general, Pomianek said red delicious, gala and granny smith volume could be about the same compared with a year ago, fujis down about 9% and granny smith off 6%.

Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director of Nuchief Sales Inc., said the crop in general looks like a very clean crop with good packouts. Fujis, goldens and granny smiths will be down some, but reds, galas and some of the newer varieties will be up.

“It will moderate somewhere in the 110 million box range,” he said.

Steensma said delayed harvest could allow fruit to size normally.

“We think we will have 80s, 88, and 100s,” he said.

Steensma said the lack of labor in the valley to thin apples during cherry harvest was a concern to in the apple industry.

Evans said the last quarter of the season should feature very strong demand for apple marketers.