WENATCHEE, Wash. — The Washington Apple Commission has been planning for some time to beef up its export promotions in anticipation of a huge Washington apple crop this fall.
It also is hopeful but cautious that a new work plan to reopen China to U.S. Red and Golden Delicious apples can be finalized in time for winter exports there.
The industry’s official crop estimate doesn’t occur until early August, but Bruce Grim, president of the Washington State Horticultural Association, has said it’s reasonable to believe this fall’s crop could be 140 million to 150 million, 40-pound, fresh-packed boxes. That’s 10 percent greater than the record 2012 crop of 128.8 million boxes.
The apple commission will have $5.1 million in federal Market Access Program money coupled with $2 million to $2.3 million from grower assessments, enabling it to spend $800,000 to $1.3 million more on export promotions than it did this season, said Todd Fryhover, commission president.
“So it’s a big uptick for us,” Fryhover said. “We’ve been planning for this for the last three to four months.”
The commission may determine how the added funding will be spent when it meets in Ellensburg on July 17.
“Southeast Asia is a huge focus and India, and we hope to have access to China,” Fryhover said.
With a large and growing middle class with more disposable income, China is viewed as potentially a big future market.
China accepted U.S. Red and Golden Delicious apples in 1993, but closed that market in August, 2012, citing detection of post-harvest diseases that it wants kept out of its apples. Washington industry officials believe the real reason was to pressure the U.S. into accepting Chinese apples.
Washington typically shipped about 500,000 boxes of apples annually to China before the closure and 2 million more through Hong Kong.
Washington officials were hopeful the market would reopen last January after USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack voiced optimism of regaining access for U.S. apples, citrus, beef and poultry in December after a meeting in Beijing.
But the Chinese sought a protocol of testing that the apple industry deemed impractical and the process broke down, Fryhover said.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and China reached a work plan a couple of months ago for exporting Reds and Goldens into China, but APHIS and Northwest Fruit Exporters are trying to sort out the practical details, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima. He would not say what those are.
“While it appears there’s been progress, there are some real challenges that remain to be ironed out,” he said. “I’m hesitant to place odds or say when it may reopen.”
A Chinese site visit to Washington regarding the post-harvest diseases still has to be arranged, he said. Chinese officials recently were in California regarding protocols to open China to U.S. citrus fruit, he said.
APHIS is working to gain access for other U.S. apple varieties into China and on protocols to allow Chinese apples into the U.S.
Elsewhere, season-to-date shipments to Indonesia were at 1.5 million boxes as of June 15, up 13.5 percent from the prior season, Fryhover said. There have been port access issues there.
India is at 2.3 million boxes, down 12.9 percent after two currency devaluations impacted its buying power last fall.
Shipments to Russia, 600,000 boxes, are up after a poor 2012 season, but there’s European competition there, Fryhover said. U.S. sanctions over Russia’s aggression in Crimea and Ukraine have not been felt much in Washington apple exports, he said.