WENATCHEE, Wash. — While Washington tree fruit companies are awash in Red Delicious apples, exports to Mexico are up 33 percent from a year ago with most of them being Red Delicious.
“I’d say it’s pretty good into Mexico even with rumblings by the administration and discussion of NAFTA. Mexico has taken a lot of fruit,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, the industry’s export promotion arm.
On Jan. 26, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, mentioned a 20 percent tariff on Mexico as a possible means of having Mexico pay for a border wall. Washington apple exporters don’t want that to trigger retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.
The administration plans to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada to make it fairer to the U.S. While questionable in other sectors, NAFTA eliminated Mexican tariffs on U.S. apples over time resulting in it becoming the No. 1 export market for Washington apples.
Time wise, Washington will be midway in sales of its 2016 apple crop in March. But with its second largest crop in history, 135.7 million, 40-pound boxes, it is 10 percent behind in sales targets of Gala and 4 percent behind in Reds, Tom Riggan, president of Chelan Fresh Marketing has said.
Reds and Gala are both selling below breakeven for growers and make up 55 percent of the 76 million boxes of apples left to sell, Riggan said.
Reds are estimated at 39 million boxes for the year with 26 million remaining to be sold. Prices are likely to fall below the current $13 to $16.90 per box.
While lower prices help exports, the strength of the dollar in relation to the value of other currencies and large size of Reds hinder exports, Fryhover said.
“The size of the crop is all a reflection of size of fruit,” Fryhover said, noting that one size larger equates to 10 percent more fruit.
Reds are running large which means fewer per box and equals more boxes or volume.
Despite all of that, Washington season-to-date exports to Mexico, as of Jan. 31, totaled 3.4 million boxes of apples, mostly Reds and a lot of Gala, he said. That compares with 2.4 million a year ago when the total Washington crop was about 20 million boxes smaller.
“We’re probably on track for about 12 million boxes for the season. That’s not bad. It could be better if we had more smaller fruit,” Fryhover said.
Mexico took 9.7 million last season and a record 16 million out of the record 143.6-million-box Washington crop in 2014. China is up almost 32 percent over last year, so far, at 1.1 million boxes versus 840,000, Fryhover said.
India is up about 200 percent at 1.3 million boxes versus 440,000, he said. India was abnormally low a year ago with port closures. India takes about 97 percent Reds and China is heavy in Reds, Gala and Granny, he said.
Season-to-date exports totaled 17 million boxes Feb. 5 compared with 14.6 million a year ago and 21 million in 2014.