Consistent Quality Key to Profitability
The pressure is on to produce consistent, high quality fruit as key pesticides are phased out.
The 2006-2007 crop marketing year is approaching the halfway mark. Prices and demand for Washington apples continue to be strong as we move through a successful marketing year. It is interesting to compare the difference between this year and the less than successful 2004 crop just two years ago. The 2004 crop of 105 million boxes returned about $300 million less than the 2005 crop of 100 million boxes. So far, this year looks to hold even better returns with about a 96-million-box crop.
As next year’s crop begins to grow, we will face numerous issues, including immigration law, which will greatly influence our ability to deliver a quality product. The 2006 crop will be the fourth year in a row that the apple industry has been able to consistently deliver a good eating experience to the consumer both domestically and in the foreign markets. The emphasis on health and nutrition worldwide has positively affected the eating habits of our customers. Other factors in our favor are the smaller crop in Europe, as well as the recent freeze in California. Of all these factors, I firmly believe the most important one is the consistent quality of Washington apples delivered to the consumer.
As we enter the growing season, one of the prime considerations for growers is to grow only premium fruit that will return a profit margin to the farm. This sounds great in theory but in practice is extremely difficult to accomplish. The Washington grower traditionally measures production by the number of bins per acre. For years, California growers have measured production by the number of packed boxes per acre. That measurement is really what counts. Pest control in the production area and a financially sound grower community are two basic influencing factors on the quality of fruit grown and packed boxes per acre.
Because we export about a third of the apples we grow in Washington State, market access is very important to our export program. The importance of this is shown by the loss of shipments this year to Taiwan with two codling moth strikes, and the phytosanitary issue in Indonesia that has resulted in loss of market there also. As of January 14, Taiwan was down some 42 percent (2,319,200 boxes last year to 1,331,260 boxes this year), and Indonesia was down 67 percent (503,380 boxes last year to 165,840 boxes this year). Pests are being used as artificial barriers in many of our markets to protect their local growers in countries such as South Korea, China, Australia, and Japan. With the increasing use of phytosanitary issues for trade barrier purposes to artificially protect domestic industries, it is important to have an effective unified voice at the federal level. Only the U.S. government can negotiate with another country on market access issues.
Dr. Mike Willett, Northwest Horticultural Council vice president for scientific affairs, and other industry members are working on the production area pest problems. Also involved is Dr Jay Brunner, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension director, who is working on the transition from organophosphate chemical use as Guthion is phased out in the next several years (deadline 2012). Both of these efforts by these organizations will require widespread industry support and involvement to be successful. The success of these efforts is essential to the production of quality fruit, market access, and financial well-being of the industry.
All of these issues point out the need for a cohesive industry that works together. We need a united front at the local, county, state, and federal levels in order to receive the attention to industry issues that will be required. At the state level, the efforts of the Washington State Horticultural Association in joining with 23 other agricultural groups to present a joint legislative agenda to the state legislature this year is a commendable first step. At the national level, the U.S. Apple Association and Northwest Horticultural Council form an effective team. The Hort Council, the Apple Commission, and the U.S. Apple Export Council (which represents all other states for export) have joined in a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on noncompetitive issues in the export arena.
It seems the pressure is on. March is the month to start pest control in the orchard, retailers are enforcing their own restrictions on pesticide use, and the deadline for phasing out organophosphate chemicals is approaching fast. Washington State needs to be proactive before government regulations go into effect. Working together quickly and efficiently is the best solution.