Spokane Journal of Business

Washington crop experts down amid trade conflicts


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Some Washington crop producers are feeling negative impacts of ongoing trade disputes, industry experts say.

Apples remain Washington’s top commodity with a value of $2.43 billion, up 3 percent from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Production, however, has fallen by 12 percent from last year, to about 2.1 million metric tons, says Wenatchee, Wash.-based Washington Apple Commission spokeswoman Toni Lynn Adams.

“We had a shorter crop than originally expected,” Adams says. A “shorter crop” is industry lingo for a smaller volume of produce harvested. 

A smaller yield has worked out in Washington’s favor. Adams says that total exports are down about 28 percent due to tariffs placed on the apples by China and Mexico, as well as an 83 percent decrease in exports to India, but the volume of apples distributed domestically rose to satisfy consumer demand. 

“The impact (of tariffs) would be greater if we had a larger crop,” she says.

Apple growers are excited about the 2019 debut of the Cosmic Crisp variety, a product of Washington State University’s tree fruit breeding program. She says about 14 million bushels of Cosmic Crisp are expected to be produced within the next five years. In comparison, the Honeycrisp variety took 25 years to reach that level of production.

“That’s why there are a lot of unknowns, because we’ve never had a situation like this,” Adams says.

Wheat producers had a big yield, says Glen Squires, CEO of Spokane-based Washington Grain Commission, with production at the third highest in state history at 153.2 million bushels. 

Total exports, however, have slipped by about 8 percent.

“We haven’t exported anything to China,” Squires says. “At this point last year, we had exported about 272,000 metric tons (to China).”

Prices are up slightly, Squires says, at an average of about $5.10 per bushel. He says poor growing conditions in Australia have aided U.S. wheat prices, but for a lot of farmers, $5 for a bushel is “hardly even breaking even.”

Next year’s wheat yield will depend on whether the state receives adequate rainfall, Squires says, while prices will depend on trade negotiations.

The value of the 2018 potato crop statewide totaled $687 million, a decrease of 16 percent compared with the 2017 crop value, according to the USDA.

Chris Voigt, executive director of Moses Lake, Wash.-based Washington State Potato Commission, says a combination of factors led to the decrease, including fewer acres planted, smaller yields, and a decrease in prices.

Washington State Potato Commission assistant executive director Matt Harris says potato exports also fell due to retaliatory tariffs from Mexico and China.

Mexico is shifting to importing more potatoes from Canada, Harris says, while China is importing more potatoes from the European Union.

“I don’t have a great forecast on what next year could potentially look like,” Harris says. “Mother Nature can always throw a curveball, so it’s hard to say.”

He adds, “We’re just waiting for what can be resolved with our trade disputes with both Mexico and China.”

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the banking and finance industries. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys travelling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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