After being shut out of China for two seasons, some Washington apple producers will likely try to comply with a new, more onerous export protocol in an attempt to ship some Red and Golden Delicious apples there this year, says Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council. But some say it’s just not feasible.

Mike Willett

Mike Willett

Chinese authorities closed the market in August, 2012, saying it was concerned about decay found in shipments from Washington. Producers in Oregon and Idaho have not been shut out of the market.

After much negotiation, Chinese and U.S. government officials agreed last year on a new export protocol that would allow Washington Red and Golden Delicious shipments to resume for the 2014-15 season. The United States has never been allowed to ship other apple varieties to China.

Under the new protocol, growers will have to follow Cooperative Extension guidelines for monitoring and managing speck rot (Phacidiopycnis washingtonesis), spharopsis rot (Sphaeropsis pyriputrescens), and bull’s eye rot (Neofabraea perennans) in the orchard and will have to sign an affidavit stating their intent to comply with the guidelines. If rot is found in the orchard, apples from that orchard cannot be exported to China that season.

At the packing house, a postharvest fungicide must be applied to the fruit, either by drenching upon delivery or by fogging in the storage room.

Fruit must be subject to a cold treatment for 40 days at 0°C or 90 days at 3.3°C before packing. At least 300 apples from the first shipment for each grower lot from each storage room must be inspected. If more than one apple is decayed, the grower lot from that specific cold storage room cannot be exported to China for the rest of the season.

Before shipment, Washington State Department of Agriculture inspectors will sample all the fruit in 2 percent of the packed boxes of each grower lot. Assuming a box size of 100, that would be 2,000 apples in a 1,000-box truck load. After March 1, the sample rate increases to 3 percent. In addition, they must cut at least 40 apples and all suspect fruit to check for internal pests.

Normally, inspectors would check only 30 fruit in 2 percent of the cartons, or 600 apples, Willett said.

Jon Alegria, president and director of operations at CPC International Apple Company in Yakima, Washington, said the protocol is not reasonable.

“I think as growers and packers we’ll do everything in our power that’s feasible to get into China, but on the feasibility scale, the protocol is just not realistic. I can’t answer for what the entire industry’s going to do, but it’s very difficult to sign up for a protocol that’s unacceptable.”

“No one believes it’s acceptable,” Willett agreed. “But I think some people will try to do it so that some volume can be shipped. This is supposed to be only a one-year program and so I think there’ll be some people who will try to get through this one year.”

Alegria, who is vice president of the Washington Apple Commission, said he was encouraged to see that China recently reopened the market to California citrus, which had been closed since April, 2013. California ships about 4 to 5 million cartons of citrus annually to China.

According to a report from Fresh Fruit Portal, China’s protocol for exporting originally included measures designed to reduce the risk of introducing phytophthora root rot into China—measures that the California industry felt weren’t practical and would not have mitigated the problem.  After a visit to California citrus producers by Chinese officials, the protocol was changed, allowing the market to reopen.

Apple protocol

The protocol for Red and Golden Delicious apples was agreed upon during a meeting in Xiamen, China, between the head of the Plant Protection and Quarantine program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and his Chinese counterpart, with no technical people present.

The protocol generally follows suggestions by the industry except that the requirement to sample 300 fruit from each grower lot in each storage room was moved in the document so that it occurs before the fruit is packed, not after. This means that the fruit will not have gone through any sorting or culling process.

“Now that it’s field-run fruit, the risk is much higher that you’re going to find more than one decayed fruit,” Willett said, noting that the protocol refers to decay in general, not just the types of decay of concern to the Chinese.

Although the Chinese government is treating bull’s eye rot as a quarantine concern, literature searches show that bull’s eye rot exists in China, though it is caused by different species of Neofabraea.

Willett said there are uncertainties about the sampling protocol and about whether China will find it acceptable for warehouse personnel to sample the 300 fruit. The agreement is less clear and more onerous than previous ones. More clarity was expected after a visit to Washington packing houses in mid-September by three Chinese inspectors.

Willett said another reason for the Chinese inspectors’ visit is to give the go-ahead for all apple varieties to be shipped to China. The inspectors will also visit apple producers in New York, who currently can’t ship any apples there.

“Theoretically, the site visit is supposed to be the last look that the Chinese are going to take before allowing us to ship all varieties,” Willett said.

The decision could be announced following a bilateral meeting to be held in the United States during the last week of October.

The United States argues that there is no reason to limit access to Red and Golden Delicious because the pest risk is the same for all apple varieties. However, the industry does not want all varieties to be subject to the new agreement for Reds and Goldens.

“I don’t see that there’s any justification to make U.S. growers of other varieties take the steps they’re requiring us to take for Reds,” Willett said. “It’s a real high priority for us to get this market reopened under a reasonable protocol.”

It’s hoped that after this season, all varieties can be shipped under one agreement. Willett said there was no justification in the first place for China only accepting Reds and Goldens. “It’s an arbitrary decision on the part of the Chinese.”