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The Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association is looking into how the volume of Washington apples going to market might be controlled through a federal marketing order.

A year ago, the association formed two committees—one in the Wenatchee district and one in the Yakima district—to discuss how to limit the volume of fruit going to market. The groups met once, and had follow-up discussions. Packers told their growers what fruit they should not bring to the warehouse when they harvested their 2005 crop, and some said they would raise their in charges to discourage growers from delivering poor or marginal fruit, said manager Bruce Grim.

But execution of the strategy was uneven, with one grower leaving part of the crop in the field and the next person taking it all to the warehouse, he added.

Marketing orders

The committees also discussed whether marketing orders could be used to limit the supply of apples by restricting sizes or grades. In February, this year, they met with Gary Olson, regional supervisor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northwest market field office in Portland, Oregon. Both fresh cherries and pears in the Pacific Northwest are subject to marketing orders.

“We made no decisions,” Grim said. “It was information gathering.”

Producers wonder whether Washington would lose market share to other regions, such as Michigan and New York, if it were to restrict supply.

Open discussion

The committees planned to meet again this spring to discuss how a marketing order might or might not work and how they might work with other groups in the industry, such as the North Central Washington Fieldmen’s Association, that have shown concern about the low returns that growers are receiving for their fruit.

“I am encouraged by the fact that the association and the folks who are in it seem to be open to following this up and having more discussion and seeing what we can do to help ourselves before we produce a 110- or 115-million-box crop,” Grim said.

Many of the big packers are also growers, and even the big guys can’t stand another year of these kinds of prices, he said. However, he noted that most varieties other than Red or Golden Delicious have been generating a profit. He sees poor returns on Goldens as a short-term problem, related to poor growing conditions and inferior quality fruit during the last couple of seasons, and said that as production of Red Delicious continues to decline, it should help bring things back into some semblance of market balance.

There might be some things that could be done horticulturally to improve the situation, he added, and he questioned whether orchards with yields of 70, 80, or 90 bins per acre could produce quality fruit.

“It’s an exceedingly complex situation,” he said. “You have to be careful to make sure that the recoil doesn’t do more damage than the projectile.”