WENATCHEE, Wash. — The Washington Apple Commission discussed whether it should start promoting club varieties at its March 24 meeting but the idea didn’t appear to gain any traction.
Club varieties are those grown, packed and sold exclusively under the direction of one company versus open varieties like Red Delicious and Gala that anyone can grow, pack and sell.
The apple commission promotes nine open varieties in export markets, this year with $5.2 million in USDA Market Access Program funding and $2.2 million from a 3.5-cent per box assessment on growers.
“We don’t want club variety folks to say they pay money but get no representation,” said West Mathison, a commissioner and president of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee. He said more club varieties are being exported and that some clubs have reached more than 1 million boxes in annual production.
Commission Chairman Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton, asked if companies charge additional fees for club promotions.
Mathison responded that companies handle that differently and that an alternative strategy would be to exclude clubs from commission assessments.
That would require a change in state law, which would be long and cumbersome, said Todd Fryhover, commission president.
Commissioner Dalton Thomas, president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, said some club varieties, such as Ambrosia, will soon expire and become open.
Commissioner Bob Mast, president of CMI International, Wenatchee, said the company is careful to keep its funds for Ambrosia, Kiku Fuji and Kanzi separate from other varieties so growers that don’t grow them don’t pay for them.
“It’s a very touchy subject with the growing community,” he said.
Commissioners Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, Brewster, and Barbara Walkenhauer, owner of Larson Fruit Co., Selah, said generic promotions do the most good.
“We shouldn’t start slicing it all up. Pretty soon (if we do that) we’ll all be mad at each other and lose market share,” Gebbers said.
Five other commissioners didn’t comment.
Later, Fryhover noted that assessment revenue from club varieties is minimal. The 3.5 cents per box assessment totals $35,000 on 1 million boxes and $3,500 on 100,000 boxes.