Spokane Journal of Business

Apple, wheat sales strong despite change, challenge


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An emerging trend fueled by the nation’s consumers has apple growers in Washington state producing nontraditional varieties of apples at an unprecedented rate, says Todd Fryover, president of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Washington Apple Commission.

“It’s exclusively U.S. consumers driving the change, and right now, the apple industry in Washington state is as strong as it’s ever been,” says Fryover.

Apples remain the leading agricultural commodity in the state with a value in 2016 of $2.4 billion. That’s up 3 percent from the previous year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

As apples are still being harvested in some parts of the state, early estimates projected Washington state’s apple growers to produce 138 million tons of apples in 2017, which would be up from last year’s final total of 115 million harvested. This time last year, an estimated 137 million tons to 140 million tons were expected to be harvested for 2016, Fryover says.

What will make the 2017 crop successful for both domestic and international buyers is the fact that the individual sizes of the apples are smaller than last year’s crop. Buyers tend to prefer smaller size apples because they get more individual apples packed in shipments, Fryover says.

As is still the case, Washington’s most prominent apple variety remains the red delicious. The gala variety is the second-largest variety grown in Washington, and it makes up 15 percent to 20 percent of the state’s annual crop, Fryover says.

Closer to home, despite the fact world wheat supplies are at an all-time high, Glen Squires, CEO of the Spokane-based Washington Grain Commission, says the demand for soft white wheat—the most prominent variety grown in the Pacific Northwest—continues to be high among exporters.

“Exports were up 19 percent this year compared to last,” Squires says. “So even though Russia has become the largest exporter of wheat in the last two years, the prospect for placing our wheat abroad is still there.”

For two straight years, the Philippines was the leading importer of Washington and Pacific Northwest wheat, he says.

The price per bushel for all wheat classes nationwide is projected to be between $4.40 and $4.60 per bushel, which would be higher than 2017’s average price of $3.89, Squires says.

Washington’s ag industry continues to remain concerned about the North American Free Trade Agreement and its future under the Trump administration for 2018.

Matt Harris, assistant executive director and director of governmental affairs for the Moses Lake, Wash.-based Washington Potato Commission, says any potential tariffs placed on commodities by Mexico and Canada could have a disastrous effect.

Washington potato exports have increased every year since 2012. Potatoes are the state’s third-largest commodity behind apples and milk, according to the state agriculture department.

“It would become a hardship to the farms,” Harris says of potential tariffs.

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