Not only did the state’s Galas look good this year, the next apple off the tree – the Granny Smith – is looking good as well, said Andy Poteete, a salesman with Bidart Bros. Marketing Inc. in Bakersfield, which handles about 800,000 cartons a year.

“The cooler weather is helping,” Poteete said.                 

Jeff Colombini, a Lodi grower and research chairman for the the California Apple Commission, said efforts are under way to try to develop a more objective standard for maturity for the Granny Smith, a green apple.

Right now, county agricultural commissioners use a starch iodine test to arrive at maturity levels to determine when the Granny Smith is ready to be picked. Colombini said there is some subjectivity in that approach.

Colombini added that this year’s fruit quality is “excellent, it’s coloring and sizing well and it has excellent fruit finish, meaning there are fewer blemishes on the apple surface than normal. That means there’s not as much sorting this year.”

Colombini finds it irksome that apples harvested months ago are still coming into stores from the Southern Hemisphere at lower prices because “we have no freight advantage.”

“Stores can get fresh apples just off the tree, but some retailers are strictly cost buyers,” he said.

Oscar Ramirez, a sales representative for Trinity Fruit Sales in Fresno, said that is driving down some prices paid growers, which he said have peaked around $35 a carton for Galas. Ott termed the price “average.”

Steve Blizzard, who chairs the board of directors for the Apple Commission and who is director of farm operations for the Lagomarsino Group in Visalia, said the advantage posed by the early entry of Galas and Fujis “before Washington state” is considerable.

“That’s California’s strong point — high quality apples earlier,” he said. “I think if buyers are educated properly, they will prefer fresh fruit over fruit stored 10 or 11 months.”

Apples are a labor intensive crop, and research is under way to try to find ways to reduce the costs. Ott pointed out that steps to production include pulling leaves, thinning fruit, pruning and picking by hand.

In addition to coming up with varieties that can extend the season, Colombini said, the Commission is looking into production of “larger, higher quality apples at lower cost.”

Galas comprise 31 percent of California production, Ott said. The Granny Smith accounts for 51 percent. The Fuji, the third variety to be harvested, amounts to 12 percent, and the Cripps Pink, which follows Fuji, accounts for about 5 percent. Other varieties make up the remaining 1 percent.

Sixty-three percent of the apple crop in California is shipped outside the state, nearly a quarter of it to other countries. Ott said 35 percent to 40 percent remains in California.