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Agriculture officials from China visit an apple packing line in Yakima, Washington on September 16, 2014. The officials met with Northwest growers and packers regarding export protocol compliance.(Courtesy Bob Bishop, USDA Trade Specialist)

Agriculture officials from China visit an apple packing line in Yakima, Washington on September 16, 2014. The officials met with Northwest growers and packers regarding export protocol compliance. (Courtesy Bob Bishop, USDA Trade Specialist)

Washington’s apple industry welcomed the news in late October of the immediate reopening of China’s market to Washington Red and Golden Delicious apples announced by U.S. Department of Agriculture officials. The market reopening was good timing as the industry moves its largest crop on record, estimated to top around 155 million 40-pound cartons.

Red and Golden Delicious apples are the only two varieties from the United States that have ever been allowed into China. But shipments were stopped two years ago when the Chinese government closed the market to Washington Red and Golden apples due to interception of three species of fungi that cause postharvest decay. The Chinese have claimed that the three fungi are not found in their country.

Negotiations have been under way for more than two years to reopen China. The Northwest Horticultural Council and Northwest Fruit Exporters have worked closely with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS ) and Chinese officials to alleviate China’s concerns that Washington apples could spread decay diseases to their domestic apple industry.

Chinese plant quarantine officials visited Pacific Northwest orchards and packing houses in September to view inspection and quarantine management systems.

Washington’s apple industry has worked for more than a year to develop an export work plan as a condition of exporting apples to China that’s feasible for Washington growers and shippers but also satisfies the Chinese government. Agreement to the export protocol by both the Chinese and APHIS and the recent Chinese visit triggered the market reopening.

Though the export protocol is onerous, given the size of this year’s crop, David Anderson of Northwest Fruit Exporters says shippers have anxiously waited for the market to reopen. When the market was last open in 2012, there were 90 Washington fruit companies registered to ship to China, he noted.

China is in the top three export markets for Washington apples and took around 968,000 boxes the season before the market was closed, according to the Washington Apple Commission. Washington State produces more than 90 percent of U.S. apple exports. With the large Washington crop in storage, the Apple Commission hopes to boost all apple exports this marketing season from the industry’s export average of around 33 percent of the total crop to 40 percent, which would equal around 60 million boxes.

“This is absolutely perfect timing,” Todd Fryhover, president of the Apple Commision said in October. “It comes when the 2014 crop of our Red Delicious apples picked higher than the industry’s estimate and also when we face declining markets for older varieties, like Red Delicious.” He believes that exports to China could reach the 500,000-box mark, but he’s hoping for a million boxes. “Our representatives in China are prepared for this and have been working with Chinese importers to make exports happen.”

Dave Martin, export sales manager for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, serves on the boards of the Hort Council and Fruit Exporters. “We’re excited,” he said. “It’s a sense of relief, and now we’ve got finality to the issue, whether you like or dislike the protocol.” He added that Stemilt put fruit in cold storage early in the season that could be ready to ship by mid to late November if it passes inspection.

“It gives us another market—the world’s largest market—at a time when we definitely need all the markets possible in this challenging crop year,” Martin said. “We’re ready to get busy and move forward.”

Steve Reinholt, sales manager at Oneonata Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, echoed Martin’s enthusiasm. “It’s exciting news because China is the kind of market that’s vital to moving this year’s crop. Also positive is that we grew a lot of the kind of apples (size and profile) that the Chinese market likes.”

He noted that the Hort Council and Fruit Exporters did a great job in keeping the industry abreast as the protocol was being developed and helped prepare industry so it could comply with the requirements if approval came after harvest.

“We have fruit that will be ready to ship soon and just need the import permits from China,” he said in late October.

Leah Dunn, food safety manager at CPC International in Tieton, said CPC also plans to export apples to China. The protocol makes export more difficult and required preplanning by the grower and shipper, she said. “We have three times the number of hoops to jump through. It means that only the best of the best fruit will qualify,” she said. •

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Onerous export protocol

The export protocol that spells out requirements that Washington Red and Golden Delicious apples must follow for export to China is onerous and follows apples from orchard to packing house.

Titled the “Supplementary Inspection and Quarantine Requirements for Export of the 2014 Apple Crop from the State of Washington to China,” the protocol is a multistep program that begins in the orchard and ends upon shipment to China.

Orchard requirements

Growers must follow guidelines to monitor and manage speck rot (Phacidiopycnis washingtonesis), spharopsis rot (Sphaeropsis pyriputrescens), and bull’s-eye rot (Neofabraea perennans), developed by Washington State University Extension.

The guidelines address orchard sanitation practices, including collecting fallen branches and fruits and pruning diseased branches, and in particular, pollenizer crabapple trees, and applying preharvest fungicides as necessary. An affidavit stating intent to comply with the guidelines is required for each participating orchard. If rot is found in the orchard, apples from that orchard cannot be exported to China that season.

Packing house

Fruit destined for China cannot be packed at the same time as fruit not qualified for China. Postharvest fungicide must be applied to fruit by drenching at time of delivery and prior to storage or by fogging the cold room. A random sample of 300 fruits from the first shipment for each orchard or grower lot from each storage room must be held in cold storage for 40 days at 0°C or 90 days at 3.3°C and then inspected before packing.

Two or more decayed fruit in the sample disqualifies the lot for export for the current season. Inspections are done on site by an APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) representative.

At shipping

Before export of each shipment, a sample of 2 percent of the total number of boxes from each grower lot must be inspected by APHIS. Sample volume shouldn’t be less than 1,200 fruits and 100 percent of the sample inspected. At least 40 fruits must be cut and all suspected fruit cut. A live quarantine pest detected disqualifies the lot from export.

Beginning March 1, the sample rate increases to 3 percent and the minimum sample volume inspected increases to 1,800 fruits and 100 percent inspection.
The protocol also dictates port of entry for the Washington apples and allows entry in seven Chinese ports.

The Northwest Horticultural Council’s Dr. Mike Willett said that when Chinese inspectors showed up in September for Washington field visits with their work plan in hand, there were discrepancies between the English translation and the Chinese version.

“We thought the 300-fruit sample from the grower lot could be pulled after fruit was in storage but the Chinese version was that it had to be collected before the lot was placed in storage,” Willett said. “So for fruit harvested after October 6, we had to agree to a sample being pulled before fruit was sent to cold storage.”

Also, the Chinese version didn’t have the 40-day cold treatment, he said. When news of the agreement came, he said that APHIS informed industry organizations that the English-language translation of the supplemental agreement is the governing body. He noted that the protocol is in place for one year.