(Dec. 4) Nobody wants to lose a customer, even for a short time. But if there was a better year for Taiwan to slam its doors on U.S. apples, I can’t think of it.

Because of a recent cold wave that swept through the heart of Washington’s apple country, the U.S. apple supply is facing some serious shortages, particularly in certain late-season varieties. The frigid spell, which sent nighttime temperatures in late October into the teens in some areas, caught some growers with much of their crop still on the trees. Pink ladies were particularly hard-hit because that variety is traditionally among the last to be picked.

Pre-season estimates placed the national apple crop at its lowest level since 1986. Because of cold weather in the spring, production in Michigan and New York is down 25% from last year. Washington, which produces about 70% of the U.S. supply of fresh-market apples, now expects to harvest just a few more apples than it did a year ago.

“Our forecast estimates the Washington crop will still be up a couple of percentage points compared to last year, but it certainly won’t be as large a crop as we had expected,” said Welcome Sauer, president of the Wenatchee-based Washington Apple Commission.

The freeze cut Washington’s pre-season estimate from 88.8 million boxes — which represented a 6% increase from last year — to 84.8 million.

Fujis, originally estimated at 12.6 million boxes, could shrink to less than 10 million, according to an informal industry survey.

The pink lady harvest, originally estimated at 710,000 boxes, could be cut to about 250,000, Sauer said, adding that as much as two-thirds of the state’s pink lady crop was still on the trees at the time of the freeze.

In early November, Taiwan said it was banning the import of U.S. apples after alleged discoveries of live codling moth larvae in shipments from Washington and California.

Washington shippers sent 3.3 million 42-pound boxes of the 2001 crop to Taiwan, which, according to apple commission figures, make that country Washington’s third-largest export market for the season. About 85% of the apples sent to Taiwan from Washington are fujis.

The ban stands to be temporary and likely will be lifted, once the two countries agree to tweak the inspection protocols for U.S. apples bound for the island nation.

But if the ban were to extend throughout the season — peak shipping to Taiwan occurs in December and January, before the Chinese New Year — the damage would be relatively minimal. With supplies shorter than anticipated, prices are likely to remain stronger than they would be in a production-heavy year.

Losing any market isn’t a positive situation, but it could be worse.