Jim Allen (Courtesy Jim Allen)

Jim Allen

A few years ago, Todd Fryhover of the Washington State Apple Commission was invited to speak at the Premier Apple Co-Op meeting in New York to talk about “China.”

As I introduced him to the group of apple growers and marketers from basically the entire eastern apple growing states including Michigan, I looked around the room and saw some cynical expressions and raised eyebrows. It was as if I was introducing New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick in the Seattle Seahawks’ locker room.

After all, Todd represents the “800-pound gorilla,” and he was about to tell the group why the United States needs to open trade to China for Washington apples, and that by doing so it would undoubtedly allow Chinese apples into the U.S.

Yes, initially some of the first discussions were targeted at getting Washington Red and Golden Delicious back into the market, after China had banned them earlier. Since this was a Washington issue at that time, the conversation for most other U.S. apple growers was primarily directed to the impact of Chinese apples into the U.S. You can guess what the overall feeling was.

Todd stood tall and stern as he laid out the scenario and frankly discussed the future of the U.S. apple industry, with or without the Chinese market. The news started to sink in around the room, and the expressions started to change to one of reality.

The reality was that every grower in the room knew what they had replanted and what the guy down the road planted, but hearing it firsthand, the anticipated growth in Washington started to sink in. With or without China now makes more sense.

The debate to pursue China took a much different path when USDA/APHIS finally, after nearly 15 years of delays, were being pressured to release the APHIS pest list back to China.

Once this happened it became evident that the train has left the station to grant access to China, and the reality of Chinese apples entering the U.S. market could happen, with or without U.S. access to China. The efforts also turned from just Washington Red and Golden apples to all varieties from all states, as stated by APHIS.

From this point forward, it became a national industry effort to bring apple trade to China to fruition. This is where the collaboration and unity of the apple industry, along with USDA/APHIS, started to show their strengths. At most industry levels, east and west, and at the U.S. Apple Association, the discussions started to focus on the end objective.

The U.S. needed full access to China while still maintaining our position, based on sound science, that China would follow strict protocols to mitigate harmful pests from entering the U.S. Initially the hard work of TreeTAC provided the defense against granting access based on their findings. Growers and marketers started to realize the importance of full access to China, and attitudes started to change. Perhaps the biggest attitude adjustment came with the 2014 crop, when all of a sudden there were 150 million reasons to pursue new export markets.

But prior to this year’s crop, the work was well under way. Without a doubt the heavy lifting came from the Washington apple industry, as it should have. After all, Washington stood to be first in line to immediately gain from the new access while the East would have a few more obstacles to overcome.

The Northwest Horticulture Council (NHC) led the charge on behalf of the Washington industry. The NHC’s Chris Schlect, Mike Willet, and Mark Powers are second to no one in their fields of expertise. Although their first responsibility is to their Washington apple industry, they were able to wear a national industry hat as well without giving up any ground.

Hammering out a work plan with APHIS that would accommodate the U.S. industry was a huge undertaking. From the rest of the country, the U.S. Apple Export Council worked very closely with NHC, Northwest Fruit Exporters, and APHIS.

We reached out to our land grant colleges, Cornell, Penn State, and Michigan State, and to personal pesticide consultants for answers to AQSIQ questions. Kurt Gallagher from the U.S. Apple Export Council and I took on most of the tasks, including hosting the AQSIQ inspectors, but in many cases our load was greatly lightened by the help of Mike Willet of NHC and Fred Scarlett of NFE.

Finally, the efforts of APHIS need to be recognized. Countless hours of negotiations, travel, meetings, phone calls, interpretations, reviewing procedures, and answering questions from AQSIQ with sound data took place.

I won’t try to name all of the players (for fear of leaving someone out because the entire APHIS team was excellent), but special recognition to Osama El-Lissy, Alan Dowdy, Judy Macias, and last but not least, Mike Guidicipietro. Mike “G” was the “General” who led this charge. He was on the ground in Washington, New York, China, and anyplace in between that needed his presence.

The U.S. apple industry is indebted to all who were involved in bringing this monumental trade agreement to fruition.

The announcement made by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on January 26 was the culmination of many years of work and a tremendous collaborative effort from the U.S. apple industry working together to strengthen it for all. All varieties from all states to China is a good thing!