The Washington apple industry has been undergoing dynamic expansion, benefiting from investments in orchard management advances, state of the art technology in managing the storage and packing process and new variety introductions that provide consumers in the U.S. and overseas with increased choices. New high density orchard plantings have come into full production, and the industry is seeing a new, higher production plateau. However, Washington is not the only state with increased production capacity. Michigan and New York, located closer to the main population centers of the Midwest and East Coast, are also increasing their production to historic highs. With U.S. apple consumption relatively flat over the last decade in spite of approximately 10 percent population growth, more of this additional production will have to go to countries outside the U.S.
The U.S. is the world’s third-largest producer of apples, with China in first place followed by the combined European Union production (led by Poland). Chinese production has doubled since 1998, although the rapid development of the middle class has meant that more and more of the Chinese apple production stays at home rather than competing with Washington in Asian export markets. In fact, China is a targeted growth market for Washington apples, and the recent agreement reached that allows for shipment of all varieties (not just Red and Golden Delicious, as was originally negotiated more than 20 years ago) means that Washington apple growers now have another promising export destination. China could quickly become the third-largest export market — trailing only Mexico and Canada — and generate over $100 million in sales.
Another country with exciting potential is India. Washington apples have been in the market for over 15 years, and are developing a large and loyal following among the trade and consumers for their attractive appearance and taste. This is especially important because most of the apple sales in India still take place in small roadside vendors and fruit shops, many with limited to no refrigeration. Washington’s unique growing conditions and quality control standards give our apples the ability to hold up under these punishing conditions and still provide the consumer with a satisfying eating experience.
The 2014-15 Washington apple season illustrates how unforeseen events and factors beyond our control can affect the industry, despite the best planning. As high density plantings continued to move into full production, the record crop that everyone had predicted could be in the works, materialized. The challenges began with the ban on U.S. agricultural products to Russia in August 2014, while the strong U.S. dollar has made U.S. products more expensive compared with competitors from other countries, and the West Coast port slowdown has created bottlenecks and lost sales for many of the industry’s foreign markets.
However, the Washington apple industry has clear strengths that will enable it to capitalize on global market opportunities. Consumers everywhere are interested in the wholesomeness of food products, and Washington food safety standards ensure that product integrity is second to none. Our consistency and transparency in “orchard to table” mean that consumers can feel confident in purchasing and eating Washington apples, bite after bite.