QUINCY — Farming is always a gamble: it might get cold at the wrong time, it might rain at the wrong time, it might hail at the wrong time. And that’s just the production side. And the market side, well, in 2018 the market side is pretty shaken up.
Currently the shaking is due to the possibility — and in some cases the imposition — of American tariffs in export markets, and retaliatory tariffs in return. It’s been going on all summer, as hay and cherries were harvested, and it’s still roiling markets as apple harvest gets underway. About 30 percent of apples grown in Washington are sold on the export market, according to information from the Washington Apple Commission.
The Trump administration has instituted tariffs on some major trading partners, including some major markets for Washington apples. Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, cited India as an example.
India buys a lot of Red Delicious apples. While Reds don’t dominate production the way they once did, Washington still grows a lot them. But India isn’t buying them the way it used to.
Most new shipments of Washington apples to India stopped in early August, Powers said. Since it takes a while to ship goods halfway around the world, there was about a month’s worth of fruit in the pipeline, he said.
The uncertainty surrounding tariffs also affects Mexico and Canada, which are important markets for Washington apples. And then there’s China, which was the top market for Washington cherries in 2017.
The tariff situation is very fluid, and the conditions could change rapidly. But as of now there could be a lot of apples coming into a market with fewer customers. The U.S. market has some room to grow, at least “to a limited extent,” Powers said. But “there isn’t another China out there for cherries. There isn’t another India for apples,” he said.
“How long is this going to last? That’s the question.” Trade disputes that end this year are a different matter than a trade dispute that tips over into next year, Powers said.