Exporters of Washington apples anticipate ample business this year.
However, some say they aren’t sure what to expect due to tariffs, and data shows significant drops in exports over the past year to major markets such as China and India.
“Way too much uncertainty,” said Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Elgin, Minn.-based grower-shipper Honeybear Brands, which grows apples in Brewster, Wash.
“Every day it seems to be swinging one way or the other,” Roper said.
John Long, director of the Union Gap, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based grower-shipper L&M Cos., said exports are important for the company.
“Export business in the Northwest continues to be a huge part of our marketing plans,” Long said.
India, the Middle East, Mexico, Canada and the Pacific Rim countries are all “very big importers” of Washington apples, Long said.
“We have also seen Vietnam become a bigger market for Washington apples in the last several years,” he said.
But Long also said the uncertainties surrounding export markets are a factor.
“The export markets the last years have been negatively influenced by tariffs, the strong U.S. dollar and other marketing barriers instituted by countries throughout the world,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. exported $57.05 million worth of apples to India from July 2018 to June 2019, a 67% drop from the previous year’s $174.91 million.
The value of shipments to China dropped 24%, from $16.78 million to $12.67 million; shipments from Mexico dropped 11%, from $290.96 million to $259.44 million.
The value of exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also saw steep declines of 32% and 57%, respectively, with exports to Saudi Arabia valued at $17.45 million in 2019 and shipments to the UAE valued at $13.08 million.
“It seems all governments throughout the world are focused on protecting their own trade and putting up barriers that restrict the free flow of our apples/pears into their markets,” Long said.
Some markets did see gains, however, with shipments to Vietnam increasing by 31% to $54.5 million, and shipments to Thailand gaining 27%, to $22.48 million.
Marketers still plan on significant exports this season, they said.
“We anticipate about 30% of the Washington Pacific Rose, Envy and Jazz (combined) to be exported, primarily to Asian markets, this season,” said Karin Gardner, director of corporate communications with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.