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Faced with a big apple crop and limited markets, French apple exporters are targeting the U.S. market for the first time in many years.

Europe harvested 624 million cartons of apples last fall, compared to a five-year average of 550 million. Poland is the largest European producer with 185 million cartons this year, followed by Italy with 125 million and France with 78 million.

Russia, historically a big market for Polish apples, shut its doors, leaving European producers looking for new outlets for their fruit.

In the late-1980s, exports of apples from France to the United States ceased because of quarantine concerns about an invasive leaf miner pest called the pear leaf blister moth (Leucoptera malifoliella), which was prevalent in France and Italy at the time but does not occur in the United States. The pest has a wide host range that includes apple and cherry, as well as pear.

Dr. Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council, said the tentiform leaf miner found in the United States infests only foliage, but pupae of the pear leaf blister moth are sometimes found on fruit stems.

As a result of these detections, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service required that European shippers pay for an APHIS official to conduct a preclearance inspection of the fruit in each country before export to the United States, which they declined to do until recently.

Willett said that, faced with declining apple consumption and overproduction, some French shippers evidently decided to adopt the preclearance protocol so they could export fruit to the United States this season.

And, the European Union has asked APHIS to review the current export protocol with the idea of replacing it with a systems approach so European countries could access the U.S. market more easily.

Willett said it’s possible that the pear leaf blister moth is less prevalent in Europe than it was 25 years ago, as are other species of leafminers in the Pacific Northwest, but the Hort Council is seeking additional information regarding the pest status of the pear leaf blister moth in Europe.

Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said freight for shipping apples from Europe to the East Coast of the United States is less than the cost of trucking apples across the country, and there is no import duty on apples coming into the United States. It can cost up to $8,000 or $9,000 to transport a truckload of apples from Washington to New York.

However, Fryhover felt the impact on the U.S. market would be negligible this season, as France has been sending small shipments of varieties not produced in the United States. The number-one variety grown in Europe is Golden Delicious, which is no longer popular in the United States and has been selling at low prices.

“I think they would be hard-pressed to compete with us both on quality and pricing of the mainstream varieties we grow,” Fryhover said.

Dave Martin, export sales manager at Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Washington, agreed that there should be little impact from French apples.

“I could see there might be a few select retailers who might try some of the new French varieties we’re not offering,” he said.

“But I would find it very surprising if they were able to come in at a lower price than us and compete with us on the mainstream varieties we’re offering.” •