CHELAN — Ed Schaplow’s pear harvest was nonexistent this year. He picked about a third of the Honeycrisp apples he normally would. His Golden Delicious crop is the best he’s ever seen. All of this with a crew a tenth of the normal size.
The owner of the 30-acre Allview Orchards in Chelan, Schaplow didn’t expect this type of harvest in July when things were looking promising despite the heat wave.
“We’re hoping to break even this year,” Schaplow said.
Tim Kovis, spokesman for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said it’s still too early to see the complete picture of the harvest.
“We’re getting different comments from different growers based off where they grow, what varieties, and what dynamics they face,” Kovis said.
Anecdotally he’s heard that this year’s apple harvest is about on par with what the association forecasted in August — 124.8 million 40-pound boxes of apples, a 2.3% increase from last year.
The region’s pear harvest was also predicted to increase from last year. According to an Aug. 26 forecast from Pear Bureau Northwest, this year’s harvest will produce 16.1 million boxes, an increase of about 5%.
For Schaplow, his pears were small, low quality and inundated with mites.
“This was a big surprise to us. Usually, we thought that pears handle heat pretty well. This year, they didn’t,” Schaplow said. “First time in 20 years where we didn’t have a pear crop.”
In a typical year, Schaplow’s pears have a value of about $80,000. This year it will be around $8,000, with the money coming from federal crop insurance or selling the crop for juice. Even then, he had difficulty in getting juice companies to buy the damaged fruit.
Schaplow said finding pickers also was a challenge.
“Our workforce relies on a transient force that moves from orchard to orchard, and that’s not existing in a great supply this year,” Schaplow said.
The labor he was able to attract was also more expensive. He paid $20 an hour for workers to pick Honeycrisp apples — the most he’s ever paid. He offered $35 for a bin of Golden Delicious apples. In the past, he paid between $28 and $30.
“If we would have had enough labor, we could have been on top of our game,” Schaplow said. “For the Honeycrisp, we could have gotten enough people out to pick the crop before we lost half of it.”
The worker shortage meant harvest took longer. It typically takes a crew of 30 about three days to pick Schaplow’s Goldens. This year, a crew of three picked the apples for more than a month.
Cold nights and cooler than normal days played in his favor, slowing the ripening process and extending the window of time workers have to pick the fruit.
While it’s taken longer to pick Golden Delicious apples, Schaplow said the fruit itself is large and of high quality.
“We expected to have pretty much a crop failure, and it’s turning out to be our best crop ever because of the heat,” Schaplow said. “It’s completely different than what a lot of growers were thinking back in July.”
The outcome for his Honeycrisp apples was just the opposite. Schaplow expected a large crop this year, though the heat dashed that hope early on. While he typically produces about 200 bins of fruit in a given year, Schaplow ended the harvest with 67 bins.
Schaplow’s Honeycrisp apples ripened later, and more rapidly than normal. The heat didn’t cause internal damage to the fruit, but it did cause the attachment between the stem and the tree to be looser than normal.
And just as the fruit ripened in early September, winds blew the fruit off of the tree. Once the fruit hit the ground, it became worthless due to health and safety regulations.
Schaplow said growers have also complained of cracks in the stem bowl of Golden Delicious, Gala and Honeycrisp apples. When this occurs, a crack near the stem of the fruit splits wide enough open to expose the flesh. This makes the fruit unpackable and unstorable since the crack causes the apple to rot.
“The one thing good about Honeycrisp is the pricing has been high,” Schaplow said. “So what apples we have been able to pick and pack, we have gotten a decent price for. But the volume’s way down.”