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Gebbers testifies against tariffs on Northwest fruit

The largest sweet cherry producer in the world, Cass Gebbers of Brewster, Wash., was among five farmers who testified to a congressional subcommittee that tariffs are a huge hurt.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on July 19, 2018 11:04AM

Last changed on July 19, 2018 11:32AM

Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms near Brewster, Wash., testifies July 18 before Congress on the impact of tariffs on Northwest fruit producers.

U.S. House Video

Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms near Brewster, Wash., testifies July 18 before Congress on the impact of tariffs on Northwest fruit producers.

If tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports don’t end soon, the federal government should consider all options to help growers, packers and shippers, the world’s largest sweet cherry producer told a congressional subcommittee.

Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms near Brewster, Wash., was one of five farmers who testified July 18 before the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade regarding the impact of tariffs by foreign governments in retaliation to Trump administration tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum and other goods.

Subcommittee Chairman Don Reichert, R-Wash., said while President Donald Trump is correct to stand up to unfair trade practices, consequences to farmers and ranchers were predictable and are “severe” and “devastating.”

When cherry harvest began in June, cherries still went to China but growers got less money because of Chinese tariffs now at 50 percent on U.S. cherries, apples and pears, said Gebbers, who also spoke on behalf of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

“China is a unique market for our cherries. There is strong demand for the largest and highest quality and it is difficult to get anywhere close to the same price for these elite cherries in other markets,” Gebbers said.

Last year, more than 11 percent of the Northwest cherry crop and 32 percent of the exports, valued at roughly $130 million, went to China, he said.

Trade barriers to China will seriously depress cherry prices to other countries and domestically, he said.

Pear shipments to China were mostly complete for the season when tariffs were imposed but apples continued in small amounts and then were shut out when China imposed a 100 percent inspection causing fruit to sit at ports for days to weeks awaiting clearance and rejected on illegitimate phytosanitary concerns, he said.

“The risk was simply too great to continue to ship,” Gebbers said.

Cherries are beginning to face similar delayed inspections, which can cause them to rot before they are sold, he said.

Gebbers Farms and Chelan Fresh Marketing sell 4.5 million to 5 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries per season with about 1.5 million going to China, he said. It is the largest cherry export program in the country, he said.

Tariffs have caused canceled orders and “redirected our program downward by approximately 1 million boxes” forcing more fruit onto the domestic and other foreign market, pushing prices down, he said.

“These customers and accounts have been developed through years of hard work and relationship building and will be difficult to simply start up again if or when the tariff situation is ever resolved,” Gebbers said.

He said tariffs in China, India and Mexico will all hurt apple sales this fall and into next winter. Mexico, which is Washington’s largest apple export market, imposed a 20 percent tariff on apples and the last time there was a tariff at that level over a trucking dispute it cost Washington apple growers an estimated $44 million per season, he said.

Growers have no ability to pass on tariff costs so they cut into already “razor-thin margins,” he said, adding he is looking at lowering costs by laying off employees, canceling capital expenditures and stopping planting plans. All of that negatively impacts communities that depend on Gebbers Farms, he said.

While Canada and Japan have not imposed tariffs, Gebbers said he’s watching them because Canada is Washington’s No. 2 apple, pear and cherry market and Japan is important in cherries.


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