Exports depend on funds
By DAN WHEAT
U.S. Apple Association, the apple industry's main lobbying arm in Washington, D.C., is a big help to Washington apple growers but it could be significantly impacted if federal funding to the Washington Apple Commission is reduced next year.
The Apple Commission has received more than $4.5 million annually for the past five years in USDA Market Access Program money that it uses for export promotions overseas.
That in turn enables the commission to give $961,000 of its annual $3.8 million in grower assessment revenue to U.S. Apple. It's almost half of U.S. Apple's annual budget of $2.1 million.
While Congress has maintained total MAP funding at $200 million annually for numerous groups around the country, there's always fear it could be eliminated or severely reduced as a way to help control federal spending. It's been maintained because agricultural exports are a bright spot in the economy.
Anticipating a decrease in 2013, the Apple Commission has discussed how it would reduce export promotions. At a recent meeting, commissioner Dale Foreman, who is also board chairman of U.S. Apple, said U.S. Apple spends most of its money on personnel and would have to make cuts if it lost revenue.
Washington growers, responsible for 65 percent of the nation's fresh apple production, get a great value from U.S. Apple in lobbying, crisis management and apple education, Foreman said.
U.S. Apple has scientific staff that has helped the industry get research grants, he noted.
Through U.S. Apple, Foreman said, Washington state has benefited in the past year from the clout of apple industry people from other states.
Ohio apple marketer, Bill Dodd, most likely next year's chairman of U.S. Apple, helped sway U.S. House Speaker John Boehner away from passage of mandatory E-verify last fall without an accompanying guestworker plan for agriculture, Foreman said.
That E-verify without a guestworker plan will "kill ag labor" was underscored through Foreman's work with Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.
Michigan apple marketer and prior U.S. Apple chairwoman Julia Rothwell knows Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
"I think Stabenow will take care of our industry in the farm bill because she is in a tough re-election campaign and wants to take care of her apple industry," Foreman said.
The U.S. Apple board planned to discuss MAP, labor and specialty crop initiatives in the farm bill with Stabenow on March 22.
"She invited the whole board to meet with her. That's important access and it's because we're a national organization with Michigan growers who support her," Foreman said.
That's the kind of access Washington apple growers can't always get through home-based lobbying of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Washington State Horticultural Association, the Apple Commission and Washington Growers Clearing House Association.
"They do a great job but have limited people and are here, not in D.C.," Foreman said. "It would be a real hardship for the industry if we lost U.S. Apple."
But Nancy Foster, U.S. Apple president, is optimistic that won't happen. She noted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack singled out MAP a few weeks ago as a program he strongly supports because of a 35-1 return on dollars spent.