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On the surface, what a year 2012 could be to a Washington State apple grower!  If you have the good fortune to have avoided the weather events, the picture is quite rosy for another profitable season for Pacific Northwest apple growers.  New York and Michigan, Washington’s primary domestic competitors, have experienced unfortunate weather-related issues that will significantly impact the quantity of their fresh apples.  So you say, how can it get any better for the Northwest?

The Ontario, Canada apple growers have experienced the same frigid bloom-time temperatures as New York, reducing volumes dramatically.  The European Union (EU) is forecasting a 9% shortfall, and Southern Hemisphere producers are experiencing excellent export demand which should translate into increased demand for Washington.  So what could possibly introduce pessimism?

I know what you’re thinking—he’s going to stand on his soapbox and talk about labor again!  I could, but I won’t.  Could it be the processing market, which is at a historical high, and concerns about short-term oversupply driving prices down?  Or, could it be the potential of over-pricing our product, providing opportunity for competing products at retail making a short crop long?  I have another topic the industry needs to consider—next season!

Will New York, Michigan, Canada, and the EU return to normal harvest volumes next year?  What about Washington—could we see 110-, 115- or 120-million boxes next year?  And let’s not even discuss 2014!  World apple production is forecasted to increase 40% from 2005 levels by 2020.  So, what are we not discussing?

This season could indeed be wonderful, providing we can find the people to harvest it.  But it could be the biggest train wreck if we don’t continue to build relationships in every market for our products.  Washington needs to maintain every single market, not for today or this season, but for the upcoming seasons when all competitors are experiencing full crops.  The year 2012 could be Washington’s best season for prices.  But, it will also be the most challenging for the sales and marketing folks.  The balancing act that must be executed to maintain relationships with consumers could be a thing of beauty, or take years to fix.