Red delicious apples shine on in export markets.

While reds don’t get the press clippings in the U.S. like some of the state’s newer varieties in Washington state, the variety remains a key workhorse in export sales, marketers say.

While it represents only about a third of the state’s apple production, red delicious variety apples make up nearly
47% of the state’s apple exports. Nearly 15 million cartons of 2009-10 season red delicious were moved through early August.

“Exports are still largely dependent on reds,” said Rebecca Baerveldt, export marketing manager for the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee.

Currently, galas account for about 19% of U.S. apple exports, but exports have increased from 5.6 million in 2008-09 to 5.9 million cartons in 2009-10.

Big wheel

Exports of all varieties of apples remain an essential cog in moving what could be a record crop of Washington apples in the 2010-11 season. In a typical year, close to 30% of the state’s crop is exported.

Many marketers consider domestic demand for apples fairly static and see export channels as the best option to soak up extra supply.

Making fruit more affordable to consumers in developing markets, the expected small fruit size of the 2010 crop should be a strong selling point into the export markets in the coming season, Baerveldt said.

Using a budget of government and industry funds that total about $5 million, the commission runs apple promotions in 30 countries, she said.

“Smaller-size fruit from an economic standpoint makes our job easier,” she said.

The 2009-10 marketing season featured larger apple sizes. Considering that, the 30.7 million cartons exported from the state by early August was a positive performance, Baerveldt said.

Overall, export shipments were off just over 8% compared to a year ago, which was proportional to the smaller crop size. The 2009-10 crop was expected to pack 103 million cartons, compared to 108 million cartons in 2008-09.

Buyers in Thailand and Indonesia took larger fruit than they typically do, which Baerveldt said was positive for the total export picture.

Relative to trade barriers, the 2009-10 season was mostly trouble free for apple exports, said Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, Yakima, Wash.

In perhaps the most welcome news of the season, the government of Mexico on March 2 ended the long running 47% tariff on Washington red and golden delicious apples in response to a ruling from a North American Free Trade Agreement binational panel.

A permanent court injunction seeking to reestablish the tariff on U.S. red and golden delicious apples was granted April 8 in response to a court challenge by Mexican apple grower Grupo de Comuneros de Tenango del Valle.

However, the government of Mexico has not responded to the injunction and the tariff remains off through late August.

Leading markets

Mexico and Canada are the leading export markets for Washington apples, and together account for about 50% of the state’s total exports.

Mexico alone receives 40% of the state’s exports. In addition to tariff-free access, growth in population and the number of supermarkets is positive for the country’s demand for apples, Baerveldt said.

One positive effect of the 14-year battle with the Mexican tariff on red and golden delicious fruit has been the fact that the tariff prompted buyers in Mexico to import gala variety apples.

“The gala market probably would not have developed to the same extent that it has because of the tariff,” she said.

One troubling issue that could cloud the success of exports to Mexico is the Aug. 18 annoucement of a 20% retaliatory tariff linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement dispute over Mexican truck access.