Washington's apple growers enjoyed their most-profitable crop in 2012, a whopping $2.25 billion in revenue, thanks to higher production and frigid weather in Michigan and New York.
Evergreen State farmers grow 65% of the nation's apples, and sales actually reached $3.4 billion last year if you factor in applesauce and juice along with fresh apples.
New techniques allow farmers to pack more trees onto an acre. Also, many Washington orchards have switched over to more profitable varieties like Honeycrisp and Fuji. Red Delicious apples still account for the most apples sold, about 30%, but that's down from 70% in 1997. Read the Associated Press story that ran in The Seattle Times.
In fall 2002, I toured the Trout/Blue Chelan apple plant in Chelan. I had just discovered a scrumptious new variety at the grocery store, Honeycrisp, and I was hopeful farmers would plant more.
"They're a fickle variety," I was told. They were tough to grow so yields were smaller than other varieties. Also, at that time, Honeycrisp did not fare well in climate-controlled warehouses and were sold only when freshly picked. That made for a short selling season and a costly apple.
Since then those problems have been addressed. Where Honeycrisp (right) used to appear in stores only for a few weeks in the fall, they're now available much of the year, although they still sell at higher prices.
I also learned while touring the Chelan plant that growers ship many of their top-notch apples out of state, where they command higher profits. Not that apples sold locally aren't great. And there's an easy way to distinguish between better and best: Look for stickers on the fruit bearing a brand name. If the sticker says the somewhat-generic "Washington," it's a very good apple, but not the grower's best. The best have stickers proudly proclaiming the brand name, such as Trout, Stemilt, Danny Boy, and other Washington brands.
"We still believe the 'Washington' label itself is very prestigious," said Vickie Edwards of Holtzinger Fruit Co. in Yakima. "Most of our apples are labeled that way."