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Hostile apple export environment fails to dampen mood

Growers in the Pacific Northwest are gradually turning their attention to the upcoming apple season. Although still several months away, early signs indicate that the approaching season looks set to be close to average, although it's too early to tell with any certainty. In the meantime, growers are maintaining good inventory and expect to have supply until the harvest arrives later in the year.

"It's been a very good season to date, after the late start," said Frank Davis, VP of Sales at Washington Fruit & Produce in Yakima. "We should still have plenty of apples to take us through to the next harvest. All the mainline varieties, including Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Fuji, are available. The market on larger-sized fruit is strong. There are a lot of smaller sized fruit around so this is providing an opportunity for promotions of smaller fruit, especially in 3lb and 5lb bags."

"The bloom for this season is looking fairly normal at this stage, although many things can happen between now and the start of the season," he continued. "The latest estimate is placing a figure of 135,000,000 boxes, which is the new normal for the region. A lot of new trees have been planted, and it's a great time to be in the industry in this region right now."

Organics, pouch bags a highlight
The move towards more organic apples continues in the face of increased demand and a good market. Growers are transitioning more acreage, much of which is expected to come online this Fall. Pouch bags, which have experienced a raised profile in cherries, are also a highlight for apple growers as they look to capitalize on consumer trends.

"It's been a good year for organics, which are enjoying a strong market throughout the season," Davis said. "As a result, there is more ground transitioning to organic. Pouch bags also continue to gain traction, particularly the stand-up pouches. It has created a lot of excitement in the industry in the last one or two years."

Chinese tariffs and inspections take a bite
The biggest challenge for apple growers this season has revolved around the export market. Apple exporters, as well as the wider fresh produce industry, have been caught in the crossfire by the trade war between the US and Chinese governments. Once the US placed heavy tariffs in Chinese steel and aluminum products, China responded by placing tariffs of their own on US fruit and vegetables. 

Moreover, last week it was reported that China is now subjecting every batch of US fruit to more rigorous testing, and detaining fruit for seven days. It has been reported that one shipment of Washington apples had already been rejected and sent back to the United States. As a result, apple growers in the US have become disinclined to send any further shipments until further notice.

"The industry is really not happy with the tariffs imposed by China on our produce," Davis shared. "The levies are in place now and it's not a good thing for the industry. We will figure out how to get through this period and we can only hope that the tariffs are rescinded."

"Additionally, China is now scrutinizing every load of fruit arriving at their ports, and as a result, the industry is very reluctant to send any more fruit to China," he added. "We can't take the risk of having fruit sent back, which is not only expensive, but also adds unexpected volume back into the domestic market which needs to be sold. Therefore, shipments of fruit have practically ceased for the time being."

Working as a state for Cosmic Crisp
On the bright side, the anticipation for the Cosmic Crisp apple is building, with the first commercial harvest scheduled for 2019. According to Davis, the apple has brought the state together, with partners and competitors alike working together in growing and promoting the apple. Cosmic Crisp has been recognized as a Washington state apple by growers, and as such, they are proud to collaborate in getting this apple onto the market and making it successful. 

"We are all very excited for the first harvest of Cosmic Crisp in the Fall of 2019," Davis exclaimed. "It has been a great experience working with other orchards, even competitors, together as a state. Initially, there was a lottery system to assign the first orchards to grow them, but now everyone can grow them, if they can find the trees. The industry is in great shape and it's a wonderful time to be part of it."

For more information:
Frank Davis
Washington Fruit & Produce Co.
Tel: +1 (509) 457-6177

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