As harvest of Washingtonʼs apple crop got under way in mid-August, questions still remained about the size of the crop and how high prices might go.

Crop estimates had ranged as high as 128 million boxes before a July 20 hailstorm caused widespread damage.

Rebecca Lyons, export marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission, said Aug. 9 that the state’s official estimate is now 108.7 million boxes.

Although that number may appear disappointing compared to pre-hail estimates, it would be the second-largest in state history. Washington had a record 109.2 million boxes two years ago.

Some think that estimate is low.

“We are up 15% from last year,” said Randy Steensma, president of Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee, Wash. “It’s a big crop coming. We can’t wait to get it off the trees with the way the market is right now.”

Not everyone was so lucky. John Long, sales and operations director in the Union Gap, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said grower damage reports in the state ranged from 10% to 40%.

“The August estimate will be just that this year,” Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., said Aug. 8. “Until we harvest and begin packing the fruit, we won’t truly know what we have.”

The hail damage in Washington followed weather that severely reduced volume in Michigan and New York.

“It is amazing how quickly Mother Nature can change your outlook,” Queen said. “One day we were looking to help our Eastern customers cover their local markets with our abundant supply, the next day we’re back to covering our primary accounts and hoping we might be able to help a few others here and there.”

Lyons said there will be “tremendous demand” and upward pressure on fruit prices in the domestic market.

“Pricing is anyone’s guess,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Yakima. “Retail price points can only get so high before the consumer shies away.”

In late August, red delicious were retailing at $1.39, slightly lower than a year ago, at $1.56. But 3-pound bags of gala apples were $4.65, compared to $2.99 a year ago.

Long said the harvest of new-crop apples began in mid-August with gala and gingergolds. Red delicious, golden delicious, granny smith, Honeycrisp, romes, jonagolds, and fujis were set to follow in September, with braeburns, cameos, and cripps pinks expected to start in October.

Queen said fruit not affected by hail is outstanding.

“The vast majority of the apples were ‘king bloom’ apples, which are the biggest and nicest fruit you can get on a tree.”