U.S.: Trump "worrisome" for Washington apple trade, says industry rep
Speaking to www.freshfruitportal.com, the organization's president Todd Fryhover also said the current season had been progressing very well and was set to see the second-largest crop in history.
One of the key issues for the Washington apple industry in the wake of the U.S. presidential elections will undoubtedly be trade, given around a third of production is exported to 60 countries worldwide.
He said it seemed fairly clear "Mr. Trump is not pro-trade, so as an industry that relies on international trade it is worrisome, there’s no doubt about that".
Trump's lack of support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his stated goal of renegotiating or withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are also 'concerning' for Fryhover, but he highlighted the President-elect's focus seemed to be more on manufacturing than agriculture.
"In a broad stroke you might be a little bit concerned about trade in the future, but when you get down into the detail I think the new administration is a big supporter of agriculture," he said.
"I think we’ll have some great picks in terms of the Secretary of Agriculture and some other positions that will be appointed by the president, so I think there’ll be some strong agricultural leadership in there.
"Until he takes office and corrects a few of the bigger issues - which he has to deal with before trade becomes too much of an issue - right now I think we’re just in a wait-and-see type of mode."
Trump's criticism of China in some areas has also worried Fryhover, as the Asian country is among the state's top five export markets and current expectations are for strong future growth.
"We put a lot of focus on China as being one of the solutions to increasing our exports in the future. The current rhetoric the President-elect has expressed on currency manipulation and those things are definitely worrisome and could create opportunities to close markets," he said.
"But certainly we’re going to keep our head down, we’re going to continue to work hard, focus on that middle to upper-class consumer in China and offer them everything we can, and if things change we’ll have to adjust.
"We hope that things don’t change, but it’s definitely something that we need to take under consideration in the future."
In terms of labor, which has been one of the biggest challenges for the Washington tree fruit industry over recent years, Fryhover said the prospects may not be as negative as some might imagine.
"We’re always a big supporter of legal immigration, there’s no question about that and there needs to be a solution. We’re always in support of that, and certainly we know what Mr. Trump’s position is on that," he said.
"However, I think a bare component of the discussion for the tree fruit industry is Mr. Trump is a businessman, he is looking for opportunities to streamline work, to eliminate paper work, to make business easier to execute, and that’s a good principle, especially when you talk about the industry’s reliance on the H2A program."
The program establishes a means for agricultural employers who want to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. on a temporary basis.
"The H2A program is not necessarily the best option available, but it’s the only options available. If we could see some streamlining of that process to make it easier and more flexible, it could be of great impact to our industry and be very beneficial," he said.
"Most people feel Mr. Trump is very supportive of streamlining and making current systems more efficient and effective, so there actually could be some positive on labor for our industry. But overall immigration is definitely clouded at best - no doubt about that."
Perfect growing season
While there may be positive and negative changes in store for the industry over the coming years, for now growers are enjoying a strong campaign with good volumes and fruit quality.
"Everything has been going well. The harvest is pretty much over, and it’s been a perfect growing season," Fryhover said.
"We had no weather events to speak of, so we’ve got some pretty high quality fruit and some larger sizes as well."
He said production forecasts had increased from earlier estimates of 134 million 42-pound-equivalent cartons to 137-138 million, which would make it the second-largest crop in history.
The increase is not necessarily an issue, according to Fryhover.
"It’s really not about the n umber it’s about what makes up the number. We have more Honeycrisp, more Cripps Pink - more proprietary varieties. So it really is a good season in terms of overall quality and diversification of fruit varieties," he said.
Domestic marketing has been 'relatively slow' for the initial part of the deal - as is often the case until around November - but Fryhover said shipments were now picking up 'fairly dramatically'.
"We need to move somewhere between 2.6 and 3 million cartons a week and we’re right in the wheel house - we’re really close to that. On the international side of course there’s a lot of competition this time of the season," he said.
The state is also seeing rapidly rising volumes of organic fruit, he added.
"We’ve gone from a little over 8 million boxes last year to 11.5 million boxes this year, so it has seen significant growth, and we expect that to continue," he said.
"The organic category is going to become a larger and larger percentage of the Washington apple offering. It’s just because of the climatic conditions that we enjoy to really do a great job on organic fruit.
"Today as you look at the U.S., Washington produces about 90%-plus of all the organic apples, and that’s continuing to be a real niche that our growers are focused on."
Ideal season for East Coast apples in Europe
Looking at the export season of growers on the other side of the country, a representative of the US Apple Export Council (USAEC) said the campaign into Europe had been a cause for celebration.
The USAEC works with growers from New York, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia which collectively export around 40-45% of their crop, according to European representative Ian Forbes.
"It’s a good year for Europe, and in particular a good year for the United Kingdom," he told www.freshfruitportal.com at the recent Amsterdam Produce Show.
"We’ve got great sizes, which we like for the U.K. retail market, particularly for the Empire variety which is the one that we bring over more than anything else.
"So it’s the perfect season, if there is such a thing. We’ve got good volume, a great quality product this year, and we’ve also got the perfect sizes."
Forbes said around 'a couple of hundred' containers were shipped into Europe each year, with the U.K. being the biggest market, receiving 4-5% of the five states' total apple exports.
Only three varieties are currently shipped from the member states to Europe - Empire, McIntosh and Red Delicious - but Forbes said there was some 'incredible development' taking place in the U.S. and he hoped to see some of the new varieties in Europe in the future.