Delicious Death: Tariffs on Indian apple imports have destroyed the Northwest Red Delicious apple business

Customers in India love Red Delicious apples. But many Red Delicious growers in the Northwest run legacy orchards — smaller family farms with less opportunity to plant any new trees or varieties.

Red Delicious apples have become less popular in the US, and newer varieties like Opal, Juicy and the fresh Cosmic Crisp are putting Red Delicious growers at a disadvantage.

But for decades, Red Delicious growers found a good home abroad – India. In 2017, apple exports from Washington reached a record 120 million dollars. But the steel and aluminum tariffs the Trump administration imposed on India in 2018 – under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act – caused the Indian government to impose an additional 20 percent tax on US apple imports. This reduced North West apple exports to India to just $3 million.

Now, the full Washington state congressional delegation is asking for help from the federal government.

About a dozen politicians have signed a letter asking the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Secretary to help lift Indian tariffs on Washington state apples. The letter comes as the important Trade Policy Forum with India takes place this week.

Mark Powers is president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“What was almost exclusively our market in India that we developed now belongs to other nations that export to India,” Powers said.

Powers says about 20% of Washington apples are now exported worldwide, up from closer to 30%.

A short year

This year is a short apple year with only about 102 million 40-pound boxes harvested, according to Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. So India’s problem is a bit sidetracked because overall there is less fruit to export. However, many growers in the Northwest last spring faced hail, extreme summer heat, transportation problems at ports, increased inland transportation costs, tariffs in exporting countries and even potential phytosanitary restrictions in Japan. All of this creates a problem for apple growers with less capital to adapt to rapidly changing operating situations, science, varieties and a rapidly consolidating agribusiness climate, Fryhover said. Besides, he said, there is a lot of competition in India from foreign competitors like China, Italy and Turkey.

By death or by the developer

Congresswoman Kim Schrier, a Democrat from Washington’s 8th District, says family farmers of Red Delicious apples in places like Chelan and Wenatchee are struggling to cope with both bad weather and a closed export market.

This is the smallest Red Delicious crop since 1968, the congressional delegation wrote in a press release. Out-of-state corporate entities take over and consolidate larger operations, while smaller farms simply shut down.

“Now they’re faced with pulling out the entire crop and planting it like Honey Crisp, or selling it to a development company,” says Schrier. “If it weren’t for these tariffs, we could save these family farms.” [Copyright 2023 Northwest News Network]

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