Washington apple industry accepts no self-limitations - The Packer

Washington apple industry accepts no self-limitations

07/22/2014 09:37:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstYou haven’t heard of Bill Snyder’s 16 goals? You haven’t heard of Bill Snyder, in fact?

Let’s dispatch with that shortcoming in your education. Bill Snyder is the long-time football coach of Kansas State University, a grandfather figure who has taken Wildcat football to the heights of two Big 12 championships and to the brink of the national championship game in 1998. He is still coaching at K-State and the football stadium is already named after him.

He is old and he is old school. The wisdom he instills to the “youngsters” on his football squad is distilled in 16 goals, which can be found on the Kstatesports.com website.

Many of Snyder’s goals for his football team (unity, improve, enthusiasm) also can be found in successful produce companies today, whether they know it or not.

Believe it or not, I thought of Snyder’s 16 goals when I was visiting with a few apple industry leaders today about the growth in the Washington apple industry.

You see, one of Snyder’s goals for his football team is “no self-limitations.” And I think that the Washington apple industry has lived out that precept in the past few decades.

Years ago, some growers fretted how marketers would move a fresh crop of more than 50 million cartons. Later, then goal moved up to 60 million cartons, then 70 million cartons, then 80 million cartons, then 100 million cartons.

Doubters, through the years, said the industry couldn’t move more than x million cartons profitably. Marketers rejected that script.

The record fresh pack out for the Washington apple crop, set a couple of years ago was 130 million cartons. And soon that record packout could be smashed by fresh market capacity that is approaching 140 million cartons or more, industry leaders.

While fresh volume may not reach that plateau in 2014, it just might.

Washington growers have not accepted self-limitations. Can-do marketers and growers have found ways, so far, to pick, pack and sell the crop. They have sought out more desirable apple varieties that kindle consumer enthusiasm and receive strong returns. They have found new export markets that love Washington apples.

But high density plantings could challenge other limitations of apple industry infrastructure, whether labor, harvest bins or storage facilities. That barrier could be seen at 140 million cartons, one shipper I talked with said.

The USDA’s recent proposed rule to allow Chinese apple imports isn’t expected to cause Northwest growers too much difficulty, particularly if China more fully opens its doors to U.S. apples. But it hasn’t taken long for reaction to roll in, both on The Packer’s story and the regulations.gov website. Here is one comment left at from regulations.gov that appears to come from an incredulous consumer.

From the comment

“Are you nuts? Why in the world would you allow the importation of a crop that could potentially bring with it insects that would devaste our own country's food supply? What natural predators would these insects have in the States - or will you import the predators when the bugs are out of control? Also, we have our own, very good fruit crops here. Do you want to try and put our country's farmers out of business? Perhaps this is one time we need to be selfish and eat what we grow here and only when it is in season. DO NOT endanger our farms, orchards and crops. I don't need to eat a Chinese apple - I don't want a Chinese apple. Washington and Michigan State apples are amazing and all I need.

 Use the brains God gave you and show some common sense. China already holds all of our debt, why in the world would we want to pay them for something we already grow pretty damn well here at home.

 Grow up.”

 

Some growers may feel like telling the USDA off in that manner. After all, declining prices accompanying rising volume from all sources may also place limitations to their growth.

But I have a sense that Northwest apple growers see another horizon. Rather than anticipate declining returns and retreating, Washington growers will have none of it – at least so far - and accept no self limitations. Bill Snyder would approve.



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