This morning we took a field trip, first through several beautiful apple orchards to see all the different ways of planting, growing, pruning and harvesting apples. Elder Ray Smith was our excellent tour guide. My visiting fruit-farming Dad was really interested in “learning more about our competition!”
Then we drove out to Wapato where Steve Clements, a local LDS friend who is over marketing and sales for a huge apple packing company, arranged to take us through the plant. We spent a couple of hours there learning all about this very high-tech apple industry in Washington.
Did you know that last year Washington produced 150 MILLION boxes of apples? Apples are picked from July through October, but because they hold so well in cold storage facilities, they are packed all year long. Below is a look at a new, state-of-the art apple packing plant. Everyone was on their 30 min lunch break when we arrived. Below are the box making areas. These are the mesh bags that are used in packaging the fruit for many of the main chain grocery stores across the nation. You’ll see some super-heroes on some of these bags! This machine calculates the exact weight of every single apple so that a 3 lb. bag has exactly 3 lbs of apples in it. No more, no less. These apples have been sized and washed and are ready for packaging now. The bags are packed into boxes, usually about 12 bags to a box. The bags sell for about $4.00 each. They go to stores like Target or Safeway. Then we headed to the other end of the building where the apples begin their process, coming in from the fields in truckloads of bins. On bin can hold up to $1000 worth of apples. You can get a feel for the enormity of this place by the size of these buildings!
The bins are submerged in water and the apples float out and into a water-filled conveyor. The water helps keep them from bruising and it helps to clean them. You can smell a bit of chlorine in this water. Then the apples are checked over by these fellows who begin to pull out the culls. This batch had quite a bit of what is called “bitter core” which is evidenced by brown spots on the skin. Rotten or cut or damaged fruit is thrown away (down one chute). Other useful culls are sent down another chute, and they will end up in apple juice, apple sauce, or apple slices for places like McDonald’s kids’ meals. Below are the bins of culls that will be taken to other places for other things: These below are culls. It’s beautiful fruit, but cannot be sold for eating apples. Sometimes an apple is just a bit misshapen. In some pickings, up to 40% are culls. Often up to 20% is left in the fields. Gratefully many culls can be used for other things.The apples continue in the water and then they are dried off by fans above them.
The next photo shows the apples being sprayed by a thin shine of wax, then they continue on their way to more sorting and cull removing.
This machine below is mind-boggling. Every single apple is digitally photographed 70 times! This camera machine has an infra-red eye that judges size, weight, color, pressure (crispness), internal damage, or any defects or blemishes. Amazing! It then drops each apple into a cup, and each cup knows just what to do with that apple (which line to drop it into for which kind of packaging). Some are A Grade, some B, and some are C grade.Every apple gets its own sticker that identifies the farm, date picked, variety and more.
This is the master-mind control station of the packing plant. Every process in the packing shed is connected to this computer, and every conveyor and machine is controlled here.They can tell the camera machine which blemishes are too big or which shade of color is needed in which order. It’s absolutely amazing. Right now a box of Honey Crisp apples sells for about $80/box or $3.99/lb. A box of Red Delicious, an older variety sells for $18/box or .99/lb. One bin holds about 17 boxes of fruit. This packing plant handles about 3.9 million boxes of apples a year.Here’s a peak into a cold storage. We just stood at the door as forklifts and workers stacked and moved boxes into aisles and aisles of rows and rows of pallets and pallets of boxes of millions of apples. Once they are all in place, they remove the oxygen from the buildings and apples will stay perfectly fine for up to a full year in storage. Some are stored in bins to and are brought into the packing sheds year-round. Others are boxed like these. When the oxygen is sucked out of the air, the workers wear something like a scuba mask so they can breathe when they go into the cold storage buildings.Here are some more culls tagged for juice.
And here are trucks being filled with packed boxes of apples on their way to markets all over the country.It’s an amazing world of apples, here in Washington! I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour. We sure did!