(Jan. 30) Despite strong demand for domestically grown apples and pears, pipfruit imports from Chile, Argentina and New Zealand could be down this year because of the weak dollar, importers said.

Bengard Marketing, Los Angeles, expected to receive its first shipment of Chilean bartletts the first week of February, said Ron Gill, operations manager. Bartletts from Argentina were expected to follow in mid-February, he said.

Columbia Marketing International, Wenatchee, Wash., expects to start bringing in bartletts from Argentina in mid-January, about two weeks behind schedule, said Bob Mast, marketing director.

Chilean galas should start shipping in mid-April, also about two weeks late. Other varieties will ship through September, he predicted.

A harsh winter last year in Chile probably would mean low volumes at the beginning of the deal, as was true of the earlier grape and stone fruit deals, Gill said.

Import pears are a growing category for the company, he said, but he couldn’t predict how many would wind up in the U.S. this year.

“If Europe has a more favorable exchange rate, I imagine they would send more of them there,” he said. “We’re still trying to gather information.”

On Jan. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-18 for carton tray packs of red delicious 72-125s from Washington, up from $15-16 last year at the same time.

Four-fifths bushel cartons of anjous 70-90s from Washington were $20-22, down from $24 last year.

The exchange rate could play a role in how much Southern Hemisphere pipfruit makes it to the U.S. this year, Mast said.

Still, Columbia expects to import as many apples from Chile and as many pears from Argentina as last year, Mast said.

“The million-dollar question is how the exchange rate is going to affect imports, but regardless, there is need,” he said. “We’re seeing really good movement on the domestic crop, and there will be gaps that are going to be filled.”

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. will import a significant amount of Southern Hemisphere galas as its domestic supplies begin to wind down, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

But overall, the company does not expect to be a big player in the import deals this season, Pepperl said — and he suspects the same could be said for much of the Washington industry.

The poor exchange rate could trump the strong demand apples and pears continue to enjoy in the U.S., Pepperl said.

With demand strong not only in the domestic market but also the export market, supplies could be tight and ads scarce this summer, Pepperl predicted.

But market laws should prevent any market gaps.

“If the Southern Hemisphere ships more to Europe, Europe will be less attractive to the U.S., and more product will stay here,” he said. “It always levels out.”