Lady Alice variety apples ripen up in Washington state for Rainier Fruit Co. ( Courtesy Rainier Fruit Co. )

Washington’s apple export outlook might be a tad murky this year, although there’s plenty of fruit ready for an array of offshore markets, said Mark Powers, president of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council.

“I think the outlook, overall, maybe it’s mixed,” Powers said. “We should have plenty of fruit; there isn’t a real concern on that front.”

There is a concern about economics, though, Powers said.

“Recently, I think, currency valuations have been somewhat favorable; if that continues, that’s always helpful,” he said. 

The outlook for Washington’s top two export markets — Mexico and Canada — is bright, Powers said.

“From our perspective and the government/world side of things, we’re not seeing any noticeable changes that would impact our major markets with Mexico and Canada,” he said.

There are tariff issues in other markets, though, including fees that add up to 70% in India, Powers said.

“Europe has gone into that market in a significant way, and none of them have that additional 20% duty that we have,” Powers said. “That is significant in a competitive market.”

China could be a tough go for Washington apple exporters this year, as well, Powers said.

“As for China, we have duties there, as well, and I’d anticipate that market continuing to be challenging, frankly,” he said. 

“Some people will be able to sell there, but it’s hard to know whether it will bounce back to previous levels. Overall, we still know it’s gonna be a challenge in the export markets, as well, this year.”

Other than Mexico and Canada, Washington’s chief export focus is Asia and the Western Hemisphere, and some markets there remain closed, Powers said.

“We have access to most of the markets around the world, but here are exceptions — we can’t ship to Australia, and that’s a burr under our saddle and has been for decades,” he said. 

“But when you look at the size of that market, it’s a good market but isn’t going to be a Mexico.”

Washington also is looking to “improve access” to Japan and obtain access to South Korea, Powers said.

“But those aren’t going to happen this year,” he said.

Export markets are not looking good this year, due to economic factors, agreed John Long, director of the Union Gap, Wash.-based division of Raleigh, N.C. L&M Cos. Inc.

“Export markets are poor, partly due to the strong dollar,” he said. 

Then there’s the coronavirus, Long said.

“We’re also struggling with their markets feeling the effects of COVID; it’s just very difficult now, so, where we’d normally in the state export 20-25% of our apples and L&M would normally export 30-35% of our apples, I think that will be down below 20% this year,” Long said.

Competition has intensified, as well, Long said.

“Export business has changed a little in the last 10 years,” he said. 

“It was a premium market for higher-grade red delicious, galas, grannies, fujis and Pinks, to where the markets are so competitive and we see that everywhere; it doesn’t matter if you’re in India, China, Malaysia or Hong Kong. But that’s, again, supply and demand. If you have too many apples, you’re going to find a marketplace for them at some price level,” he said. 

“So, while I think we’ll clean up with this year’s crop pretty well, we just wish the price was a little better.”

Organic apple shipper Viva Tierra Organic Inc., based in Mount Vernon, Wash., looks to Asia, said Matt Roberts, sales manager.

“We would hope that Taiwan is good,” he said. “Most of that is going to Taiwan or Malaysia and Singapore. Canada is huge, but I don’t think of it as an export market.”

Much of what Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh exports is red delicious, both conventional and organic, said Tim Evans, manager of domestic and export sales.

“That variety continues to shrink down in volume,” he said. 

“The expected crop this season is down to around 22 million bushels, so hopefully we can leverage that into better export pricing for reds. Other varieties like gala and fuji will compare to last year’s volume, but big growth in organic versus conventional.”

Bellevue, Wash.-based Pacificpro Inc. is shifting away form the export market, and for economic reasons, said Marcus Hartmann, vice president of operations.

“We have chosen to pursue export opportunities with reduced fervency,” he said. 

“The instability of economies globally has increased the risk in extending credit to export markets and with excellent demand domestically, we have chosen to focus our efforts on supplying the domestic market, first and foremost.” 

 

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