TRENDS IN THE WASHINGTON STATE TREE-FRUIT INDUSTRY

D.C. Elfving
Commercial tree fruit production began in Washington state about a century ago. Today most of the commercial tree fruit production is located east of the Cascade mountain range. The central Washington tree fruit growing areas experience average annual rainfalls of 200–250 mm per year. Most of the precipitation occurs as rain or snow in the winter, while summers are hot and dry. These conditions favor high production and limit disease and pest problems, but require irrigation to sustain tree fruit orchards. Winters are cold, but temperatures low enough to produce damage to tree fruit buds or tissues occur only rarely. Washington is responsible for approximately half the apple production in the United States. Washington is the top producing state in the US for apples, winter pears and sweet cherries, and is second behind California in the production of ‘Bartlett’ pear. Tree fruit hectareage has increased by up to 7% in the past 10 years, leading to steady increases in the annual production of apples and pears. Annual sweet cherry production has not shown a clear trend despite increasing orchard land area. Wide fluctuations in cropping have been due to weather factors, principally rain at harvest time. The most rapid development of new orchards is taking place in the southern part of the state, from the Columbia Basin to the Oregon state line. In the past 10 years, growers have rapidly adopted dwarfing rootstocks and intensive planting systems for apples. Many variations in trellis and pole-based support systems can be found in commercial orchards. While various strains of ‘Delicious’ still dominate Washington apple production, the cultivars ‘Gala’, ‘Fuji’, and ‘Braeburn’ have been planted more widely in recent years. The pear cultivars ‘Bartlett’, ‘D'Anjou’, and ‘Bosc’ and the sweet cherry cultivar ‘Bing’ have been the main cultivars in Washington for decades. Fewer changes have taken place in pear and cherry growing due to the absence of suitable cultivars and size-controlling rootstocks. The Washington tree-fruit industry has significantly increased its dependence on international markets in the last 10 years. As production, especially of apples, has grown, international markets have absorbed much or most of the increase. Up to a third of the apple crop is now exported annually. Because of the dependence on irrigation, water access and water rights issues always ignite great interest in the tree fruit industry. Concerns about restoration of wild salmon runs, about uses and potential pollution of water resources, about access to water in the future and about sustainability and quality of subterranean water supplies are attracting attention at the present time. Washington State University, the land-grant institution in Washington, and the United States Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, provide significant resources for the development and dissemination of technology for the tree fruit industry.
Elfving, D.C. (1997). TRENDS IN THE WASHINGTON STATE TREE-FRUIT INDUSTRY. Acta Hortic. 451, 31-44
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1997.451.1
https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1997.451.1

Acta Horticulturae