ELLENSBURG, Wash. — The Washington Apple Commission believes it has a good chance of a temporary boost in federal export promotion dollars from Trump administration aid for agriculture hurt by the tariff trade war.
With retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, India and China expected to cost Washington apple growers $129 million in the 2018-2019 sales season, the commission will apply by a Nov. 2 deadline for a slice of $200 million in the USDA Agricultural Trade Promotion program.
While separate from the existing Market Access Program, ATP will essentially mirror MAP and the commission could potentially double its $4.8 million in annual MAP revenue for 18 months, said Todd Fryhover, commission president, said at the commission’s Sept. 20 meeting in Ellensburg.
The commission would have to match $1 for every $10 in ATP money, he said. He did not say how much he thinks the commission should seek.
The program is intended to help exporters identify and access new markets and help mitigate adverse effects of other countries’ restrictions.
“We can’t qualify for the direct payment and buyback portions (of USDA’s $12 billion in tariff mitigation), but we’re a poster child for ATP because we’ve been hit by every tariff,” Fryhover said.
Any additional revenue would help the tail end of the 2018-2019 sales season but could more substantially help the 2019-2020 season where it maybe needed more if the 2019 crop is significantly larger than the 2018 crop, he said.
The 2018 crop, now halfway through harvest, was forecast at 131 million, 40-pound boxes on Aug. 1. But commissioners at the meeting agreed it is picking short and likely will end up at 115 million to 125 million boxes.
The fruit “just is not there,” said Jon Alegria, commissioner and president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton. It may be partly due to orchard reductions or regrowth time in switching varieties, he said.
“We expected we’d be 10 percent more and it’s 10 percent down from last year. Trees just need a break,” said Mark Zirkle, Zirkle-Rainier Fruit Co. president, Selah, alluding to alternate-bearing cycles.
Discussion centered on desire to see apple prices increase due to a smaller crop, but hampered by leftover 2017 inventory.
About 12.4 million boxes of the 2017 crop remained to be sold, Aug. 1. Heavy volumes of new crop Honeycrisp and Gala also will counter price increases, Desmond O’Rourke, retired Washington State University agricultural economist, has said.
“We all know prices should come up but we can’t do it because we have inventory,” said Michael Roche, commission chairman and owner of Roche Fruit, Yakima.
Bob Mast, commissioner and president of CMI, Wenatchee, said more national retailers are going for fixed prices.
“We need to stay united as a group and renegotiate some of that,” he said. “The pricing is not there. I hate following a crop of small-size fruit. It messes up the market. Retailers get a warped sense of reality on prices.”
Fruit is better color and quality this fall and hopefully will result is less repacking than last year, he said.
James Foreman, commissioner and manager of Foreman Fruit, Wenatchee, said quality of second-pick Gala and Honeycrisp suffered because of heat and need to be sold quickly because of risk of bitter pit decay in some stored fruit. Others agreed bitter pit will be an issue.