Washington apple industry rises to meet export demand

09/09/2013 10:49:00 AM
Tom Karst

YAKIMA, Wash. — Apple exports from Washington are an increasingly important outlet for a steadily expanding state and national crop.

Total U.S. apple exports — 90% dominated by Washington — totaled more than $1.1 billion in the August 2012 through June 2013 period. That is up 17% in value and 6% in volume compared with the previous year.

The Washington industry is focused on expanding markets and maintaining markets that are already open, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee.

Markets barriers in China, Indonesia and Europe must be confronted to expand opportunity, he said.

With Washington apple exports moving all over the world, the list of untapped markets is relatively short, he said.

South Korea may present opportunity to Washington apple exporters, but that could be a decade away under the terms of the free trade agreement.

Australia also is another market, now closed, that could provide future demand. Even when opened, however, Fryhover said Australia may only take 50,000 to 100,000 cartons.

Expanding trade to the Dominican Republic and other parts of Central America represent proof that free trade agreements work, Fryhover said.

Although the tariff for apple imports in India is more than 50%, that country imported more than 4 million boxes of Washington apples two years ago, Fryhover said. Reductions in tariffs there could be a boon to exporters, he said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics and industry estimates project 47.2 million cartons of fresh fruit will be exported from the U.S. in 2013-14, or about 19% of the crop. That would be up from the record 46 million bushels exported fresh in 2012-13, according to the U.S. Apple Association.

Considering Washington exports fruit to more than 70 countries, export markets just might be able to absorb more fruit this year.

“Between those 70 markets and all of our customers, it really helps us to sell that bin much more thoroughly,” said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers.

Mexico

Mexico is the largest export market for U.S. apples, with $313 million in sales tallied from August 2012 to June 2013, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture trade statistics. Buyers in Mexico purchased 47% more U.S. apples in value and 26% more fruit in volume in the latest season, according to the USDA. Mexico accounted for 30% of all fresh exports.

The Mexican market remains very strong for Washington apple exports, Fryhover said, taking about 14 million cartons in 2012-13, up 32% from the previous season.

“You’ve got tremendous retail growth, you’ve wide diversification across the varietal manifest as well as the size manifest,” he said. “There’s a home for almost everything we grow in Mexico.”

The second largest market for U.S. apple exports was Canada, which purchased $224 million in U.S. apples from August 2012 to June 2013. Exports to Canada were up 39% in value and 37% in volume in the most recent season. Canada accounted for 18% of all U.S. fresh apple exports.

Other markets in the top five for apple exports include India, Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to the USDA.

China

Industry leaders believe China is a future top-rung market, though the country currently has imposed barriers on Washington apple exports.

The top trade objective for the apple industry is to secure access to the Chinese market, said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Red and golden delicious apples had been going in to China but are now prevented access because of phytosanitary issues, he said. The industry wants to solve those issues to win back access for reds and golden and also expand that list of approved varieties.

China has requested access for its apples in the U.S. market, and Schlect said that the back and forth talks over pest risk assessments are ongoing.

“We as an industry have taken the position if they satisfy APHIS pest and disease issues, they should be treated like any other country,” he said.

The U.S. already receives apples from Chile, New Zealand, Canada and other countries, so apple marketers are used to foreign competition.

Apple industry leaders said Washington growers could compete well with Chinese apple imports to the U.S., having already competed with Chinese competition in markets like India and Vietnam.

Washington has the premier image in the world for quality fruit and demand for the state’s apples is great, said Steve Reisenauer, sales manager of Sage Fruit Co., said. Asia, India and Mexico are still promising markets for growth, he said.

Another shipper agreed.

“We grow a product that cannot be duplicated around the world,” said Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan.

With the middle class growing in India and China, there will be increasing export business for Washington apples because of their unique and superior product, he said.

“Our volume will probably grow faster than those economies, but eventually we will find equilibrium,” he said.



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