Right now, your apples are harvested by humans. But Washington may soon face a shortage of apple pickers: as soon as 2021, according to Washington State University economist Karina Gallardo. The labor pool is shrinking with tougher immigration enforcement and a growing Mexican economy.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

This year Washington farmers estimate they’ll harvest about 133 million boxes of apples. That’s up 15 percent over last year’s crop, but it won’t pluck the top record from the biggie 2014. The harvest is just now starting.

The Northwest apple harvest is just underway and pickers are wading into the lush orchards. And so far things look dramatically better than last year.

Dylan Luder / Flickr

Is it time to forget about the Red Delicious? Probably not – it’s still one of America’s best-selling apple varieties. But sales of the classic fruit have declined in recent years, and that’s led to a race to find replacements.

Lena Jackson

Lead and arsenic used decades ago in pesticides are still lingering in the topsoil of Pacific Northwest apple country. That poses a health risk for children who come in close contact with dirt -- in the backyards and playgrounds developed from former orchards.

Tony Schick / EarthFix

For decades, apple growers in Central Washington sprayed their trees with a misty brew of lead and arsenic to keep pests away. The practice stopped in the mid-20th century. Since then, many of those orchards have been redeveloped -- some as housing subdivisions, schools, and daycare centers. Even though the orchards are long gone, those toxic chemicals remain in the soil.

Hannah Whisenant / Northwest Public Radio

This is the time of year apples begin to ripen and we dream of pressed cider, apple butter, and apple pies. But what about all the crabapples that remain uncelebrated, untouched – and rot into late fall? 

A popular gift now for Chinese New Year is a box of red apples from Washington. But Northwest shippers say a labor dispute at West Coast ports is jeopardizing that lucrative overseas market.

jkbrooks85 / Flickr

A slowdown in operations at ports up and down the West Coast is choking off the flow of apples, Christmas trees, potatoes and other Northwest products to foreign markets. Exporters say the delays could have long-term consequences for Northwest agriculture if the problems aren’t resolved before the holidays.

In Washington, fruit shippers have reported sending refrigerated trucks full of apples from this year’s historic crop to the port of Seattle, only to have them sit there for days.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

You’ve probably noticed the arctic air mass from the North Pole nuzzling in close here for a icy hug. What you might not have thought of is this: The cold apples in Northwest, and the people struggling to harvest the last of them.

When It Comes To The Apple Club, Washington's A VIP

Nov 10, 2014
Dan Charles / NPR

Monday morning, NPR ran a story about the changing apple market - specifically, about "club" apples, exclusively-branded apples that only some groups are allowed to grow. You probably know a few of these club apples already. The Honeycrisp is the best-known. And more and more club apples are showing up in stores across the country: the Jazz, the Envy, the Ambrosia. These new apples could even some day push out traditional varieties like the Red Delicious.

How Cell Phones Are Shaking Up The Farm Labor Market

Nov 4, 2014
Rowan Moore Gerety / Northwest News Network

When Eduardo Cruz awoke to the sounds of rain outside his home in Yakima on a recent morning, he didn’t have to wait long for a cell phone call from the orchard manager where he works picking apples, an hour away in Mattawa.

Washington Apple Commission / Northwest News Network


Washington apples will soon be packed aboard boats to China. That’s because the Chinese government approved market access to Northwest fruit today after a two-year market closure. 

Getting access to China is essentially a $50 million dollar deal per year for Washington apples farmers.

The Chinese government closed off markets in August of 2012. China said it was concerned about a recently discovered fungus.

Rowan Moore Gerety / Northwest News Network

Grower Rob McCormick stoops to examine a knotty tree trunk in an apple orchard in Selah, Washington. “You see right here?” he says. “These had been Red Delicious. Then we cut this down to a stump and grafted in the Galas.” 

Washington’s agricultural crops in 2012 are up 6 percent from the year before. A recent USDA report say agricultural products reached nearly $10 billion.

We’ve all been there. You’re hungry, and you want something good to eat, but there’s no time. So you hit the vending machine for sugar or salt.

A recent Washington State University grad wants to change that. She’s started a Northwest business around a simple, better choice: an urban apple delivery service.

Northwest apple growers are expecting a bumper crop this year and harvest is already beginning on some farms.

But growers are excited over an apple variety you can’t even get in stores yet.

Washington’s crop this year is going to be the second largest on record – at 4.8-billion pounds. Only last year's crop was larger.

Northwest apple expert Rebecca Lyons attributes that recent growth to newer much-denser plantings. But more and more farmers are turning toward premium, newer varieties to earn profits.

threefatcats / Flickr

The apple harvest season is starting to wrap up across the Northwest. Despite record yields, many farmers had trouble getting their time-sensitive crop off the trees because of a short labor supply.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Moms and dads hoping to pack an apple in their children’s lunches might have to budget a bit more this year. That’s because even though the Northwest has seen a bumper crop in apples, elsewhere there’s a shortage.

In western Michigan, there aren't enough apples to pick because bad weather decimated 85 to 90 percent of the crop. But Washington state has the opposite problem — there's an abundance of apples, but not enough pickers.

This should be the happiest, busiest time of year in Washington apple orchards. But now — just as the peak of apple harvest is coming on — Broetje Orchards manager Roger Bairstow is wincing.

Photo Credit: Anna King

Washington state apple growers are harvesting the second-largest crop in history, but it appears there won't be enough workers to get the fruit off the trees quickly enough. The bulk of the region’s fruit will be picked in the next few weeks. As Correspondent Anna King reports, the labor shortage comes as apple prices are high.