Adversity provides opportunity. This is the mantra for the 2008–2009 Washington apple season. We’re facing a world economic downturn, plummeting foreign currency exchange rates, import protectionism, static domestic apple demand, and the largest Washington apple crop in history—simultaneously. What more adversity could be heaped upon the Washington apple industry this season? But challenges aren’t uncommon to our industry, and our ability to rejuvenate ourselves has been exemplified throughout history.
The spring of 2008 provided visions of a reduced Washington apple crop, creating expectations for another banner year in grower returns. As our 2008 crop matured toward harvest, and apple prices rose to unforeseen historical levels, confidence reigned and optimism soared. Summer provided a glimpse of how fragile our intertwined global community really is. The world economic downturn stifled international trade, and currency devaluations increased the cost of our products internationally—some by as much as 40 percent. And then came the unpredicted 112 million cartons of Washington apples, seven million cartons more than our previous record crop. With adversity staring us in the face, our dynamic industry strives to build bridges for future increases of consumption of Washington apples in international markets.
As our industry volumes grow, markets need to expand to accept the increase. In fact, you could argue that markets need to grow faster than volume to ensure a profitable return to our growers. As we move into virgin territory for both industry volumes and varietal diversification, the focus on new markets and expanding varietal preferences in traditional markets remains imperative. The obstacles are economic constraints, trade restrictions, and phytosanitary issues, rather than an unwillingness to purchase Washington apples. Exports excelled this season to Jordan and Libya, which just a few years ago weren’t even on the commission’s list of potential markets. Optimistically, we look under every rock for consumers willing to pay a premium for “the best apples on earth.”
As we approach the final months of apple exporting, the unforeseen positive benefits of a large crop can be seen setting the stage for increased varietal diversification and, ultimately, more exports. Domestic apple consumption remains stable, requiring additional emphasis on expanding traditional export markets by reinforcing that we are not just Red Delicious. In the 2006–2007 crop year, our industry exported slightly over 29 million cartons of Washington apples to more than 60 markets. This season, we’re on track to export approximately 34 million cartons of Washington apples—a volume our industry needs in the future as our crop volume continues to expand.
As Red Delicious becomes a smaller percentage of the Washington apple harvest, demand is being cultivated for Washington’s other varieties. With two months of good export sales remaining, industry has increased export shipments of Golden Delicious by 20 percent, Fuji by 16.5 percent, and Gala by 19 percent as compared to 2004, our previous high in export volume. In addition, organic demand in international markets has been exceptional—up 41.5 percent from last year.
At your Washington Apple Commission, we, too, are adjusting to be more efficient and proactive to the changing crop volumes, varietal diversification, and evolving markets. For the upcoming season, we will move the Canadian program into the Wenatchee office, while increasing funding to our second-largest export market. An additional staff member will enhance evaluation and execution of our export programs—building bridges to enhance Washington apple growers’ prices in the international markets.