With another big crop this year, Michigan apple growers will be looking beyond U.S. borders to find homes for their fruit.
Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee, is expecting strong demand from traditional trading partners in Central America, the Caribbean, India and Southeast Asia.
“Those are still healthy markets, and we’re looking to grow,” Smith said.
The industry also has high hopes for Brazil, Smith said, though there are some road blocks to opening that market.
Even less likely to open, at least in the short term, is Russia, Smith said.
“Michigan hasn’t exported to Russia for a couple of years.”
Smith also is optimistic about expanding foreign markets for Michigan apples through the industry’s participation in the Arlington, Va.-based U.S. Apple Export Council.
The council represents export promotions for all states except industry leader Washington.
“It’s a great opportunity to work together with those who have similar markets,” Smith said.
The export council, just like the Washington Apple Commission, receives Market Access Program funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for overseas promotions.
The two groups work independently, but they do share some efforts in market research, crisis communication, trade issues and emerging markets.
The council has sponsored promotion programs in Taiwan, Canada, Central America, Europe, the United Kingdom and Mexico. India, Russia and Southeast Asia also have had export programs run by the council.
For the first time, Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc. hired a saleswoman who specializes in exports, indicating the importance exports will play in the future for the company, said John Schaefer, president.
Maria Rivera joined Jack Brown this summer.
With new high-density orchards boosting production, Schaefer said Jack Brown needs to make sure there are homes for all those extra apples.
“We have some growth coming at us, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a grocery store in the U.S. that doesn’t have apples,” he said. “Exports are becoming a more important part of our operation.”
Jack Brown exports to Europe, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, among other markets. India is a more recent market that has been coming on strong, Schaefer said.
Tastes differ depending on the destination, he said. Small galas, for instance, are very popular with Jack Brown’s customers in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
Medium and large premium-quality reds, meanwhile, are a big draw in India.
Not all Michigan apple industry officials and growers are bullish on exports, however.
Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., said his company doesn’t export any apples.
And exports don’t seem to take as big a slice of the Michigan apple pie as they used to.
“Michigan used to do quite a bit, 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.
Washington and even New York have good-sized crops to support export programs, which makes it hard for Michigan to overcome geographical challenges, Winkel said.
“By the time you ship (Michigan apples) to Miami or somewhere else in the East, everyone’s beat us on freight.”