WASHINGTON APPLE GROWERS EXPECTING GOOD YEAR

Washington-grown apples may be a bit smaller this year, but the 1996 harvest is expected to just fall short of the record-breaker of two years ago, according to a report issued jointly by the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.Growers estimate that about 94.4 million 42-pound boxes of apples will be harvested this year, although the cool weather

Washington-grown apples may be a bit smaller this year, but the 1996 harvest is expected to just fall short of the record-breaker of two years ago, according to a report issued jointly by the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.

Growers estimate that about 94.4 million 42-pound boxes of apples will be harvested this year, although the cool weather in the early stages of the growing season may have had an adverse effect on the apples' size.

But there will be a large enough volume to make up for the reduced size, according to Jim Thomas, a spokesman for the Washington State Apple Commission. "The growing conditions have actually been very good," he said.

The commission expects its most famous varieties to prosper most this year. Officials predict the red delicious harvest will be up 23% from last year, while granny smith production is expected to increase by about 17%. Growers expect to harvest about 16.8 million boxes of golden delicious, an 8% increase over last year.

Newer varieties are coming into their own this year as well. The Washington State Apple Commission is planning a major campaign this year for the promotion of Fujis, galas and braeburns. Fuji production should double last year's total if conditions are right, and gala and braeburn harvests could jump 25% to 30% higher than 1995, according to Thomas.

Fujis, the "extremely sweet" apples with the pink stripes, have been marketed well overseas, Thomas said, especially in Asia, but have gained little interest in the United States. Washington has been producing Fujis since the mid-1980s, but this is the first year the crop will be large enough to render wide-scale promotion.

The trees formerly took three to four years to blossom, but the newer trees blossom in about a year, Thomas said. "The first real large-scale marketing [campaign] kicks off this fall."

Thomas said the national apple crop predictions are close to last year's total, but pundits are saying New York and Michigan could have considerably smaller harvests.

"We're expecting a good promotional year," Thomas said. "The consumer outlook is good because there are more choices."