Soon it will be 10 years since the duties and responsibilities of the Washington Apple Commission were revised to concentrate on international promotions only.  In the same time period, we’ve experienced wide variations in crop volumes and export quantities.  Washington’s total crop volume has fluctuated 30,000,000 cartons, ranging from 79,872,000 in 2003-04 to 109,000,000+ in 2010-2011.  Our exports have doubled from 17,361,972 in 2003-04 to over 36,000,000 last season.  Clearly, as Washington’s apple volume expands, export markets are keeping pace in developing consumers for “The Best Apples on Earth”.

From year to year, variations can be dramatic as illustrated above, and why should we conclude that building international demand for our product remains unchanged?  Do the same markets that provided the highest grower returns a decade ago still provide that same high return?  What of new and emerging markets? Should we expand our programs?  Mature markets – can we still impact consumers?  What does all of this mean looking forward into the next decade?  All good questions.

At the end of this month, WAC staff and commissioners will set aside a day to sit down together and look into the past to determine a future path of increasing consumer demand for Washington apples: Strategic Planning.  Based upon the knowledge and belief that Washington apple crops will continue to grow in the future, and US consumption of fresh apples is static, it’s critical to know where our markets are.  And, how do we execute a plan to get consumers to choose Washington State apples?

There is another component to the strategic planning discussion that lends consideration – the long term likelihood that the Market Access Program (MAP) may not exist, or at a minimum, decrease in the future.

For you MAP rookies, MAP is a program within the Farm Bill administered through the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) under direction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  MAP provides approximately 72% of the WAC’s export budget.  WAC assists in the financial support of two industry organizations — all remaining grower monies go to support receiving MAP dollars.  It suffices to say, that without the Market Access Program, the WAC would need to reinvent itself.  So, why react when we can be proactive?

The WAC has 28 individual country programs. Without MAP, it could easily be six.  So having a plan, knowing which markets contribute the most to growers’ net return, and understanding where the growth potential is, are all questions we need to answer.  This is the focus of our strategic planning meeting.

Nothing ever stays the same!