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Production, Export of Washington Apples Show Significant Growth
This year’s crop of Washington apples is up by 13% over the previous year
Having just started in August of this year, Washington State’s apple harvest has already produced tangible results. Brianna Shales, communications manager at Stemilt Growers, informed Produce Report as to the season’s remarkable results: “Washington’s apple harvest is complete, and according to the most recent storage report, the state has a crop of 137 million 40-pound boxes.” According to Ms. Shales, this year’s crop is up by roughly 13% over the previous year and the apples are one to two sizes larger than normal, especially when compared to the smaller size of last year’s fruit. When evaluating the crop’s commercial prospects, Ms. Shales remarked that this year’s apples can be easily marketed as they are high in quality and span a wide range of varieties. “Across the state, Red Delicious remains the top-produced variety by volume, followed by Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith. At Stemilt however, the position of these top varieties is slightly different, with Gala the most produced, followed by Red Delicious, Fuji, and Granny Smith.”
The season for Washington’s apples runs year-long, from September through August, and the export peaks in the winter and spring. Container shipping are the primary method of shipping and will operate at full capacity until June, when shipments will slow down slightly for the summer months of 2017. The number of overseas shipments to all destinations, including China, from September to November 2016 already proved to be higher than that of 2015 due to increases in production. According to the most recent statistics, 671,000 boxes of apples were shipped to China this season, compared with 491,000 boxes over the same period last season, for an increase of over 36%. Other export destinations in Asia where Washington State exports its apples have experienced widely varying growth rates, with exports to Vietnam increasing by 46% but exports to Hong Kong growing by only 1%.
Bill Young, Stemilt’s senior export account manager, revealed another reason for the growth of exports to China: the recently-signed U.S.-China agreement, which allowed all varieties of American apples to be sold on the Chinese market. Up until May 2015, only two varieties, Red and Golden Delicious, had access to China. In Mr. Young’s opinion, this protocol “sets a new plateau” for apples from Washington State, which produces more than 90% of the country’s total exports. Mr. Young noted that this season, Stemilt is pursuing a relatively modest export agenda for China, averaging just a few containers per week.
However, in addition to Red Delicious, which has already proven to be a bestseller on the China market, the company also ships Gala and Granny Smith apples to China in mixed containers. “Furthermore, we shipped three containers of our exclusive club variety of SweeTango® apples and will soon ship the first pallets of another of our exclusive apple varieties, Piñata®,” Mr. Young said to Produce Report, adding that Stemilt’s goal for this season is the steady export of Red Delicious, with mixed pallets of any or all other apple varieties. “We do not have any volume expectations; we just do what we think is right and are hoping to build our business up from a solid foundation over the next several years.”
Red Delicious, Gala, and Granny Smith are the three most common apple varieties exported from Washington State to China, a choice which is based on local consumption trends. Educating the Chinese consumer about other apple flavours and varieties is perceived as a rather large challenge by exporters. “It is a long-term effort, driven by retail promotion, to introduce and educate the Chinese consumer as to these new and unique-to-eat varieties of apples,” shared Mr. Young.
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