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Troubles to Continue for Apple Growers

PULLMAN, Wash. — Economic woes are likely to continue in 1999 for Washington apple growers and pear producers will likely fare little better.

R. Thomas Schotzko, Washington State University extension economist, says Washington apple growers produced 22 percent more apples in 1998 than in 1997. Estimates based on the Dec. 1 storage report indicated a potential of shipping a record 100-million cartons of apples from the 1998 crop, but Schotzko believes cullage because of quality problems will result in sales of about 94 million cartons.

Writing in the 1999 Pacific Northwest Agricultural Situation and Outlook Report, released Wednesday (Dec. 30) by Washington State University, University of Idaho and Oregon State University economists, Schotzko says the domestic apple market has been stagnant for several years and Asian economic woes continue to reduce potential international sales.

Washington growers responded by voting to assess themselves another 15 cents per 42-pound carton to promote apple sales. This brings their assessment for marketing to 40 cents and will produce $10 million to $15 million additional revenues to promote sales.

The economist foresees some improvement in Asian sales, but he expects stiff competition from China. Schotzko expects average season prices to be lower than in 1997. Mexico may provide a bright spot for apple growers. “Movement to that market will be significantly better than last year,” he said.

Early season pear prices rose 9 percent in 1998 because the Northwest winter pear crop was 11 percent smaller than the 1997 crop. Schotzko says growers who expect improved prices later in the marketing year may be disappointed because reduced exports have resulted in high inventory levels that are now similar to last year. Fruit quality also will lower returns for pear producers. Schotzko said cullage is higher for the 1998 crop and not as much fruit is grading “No. 1.”

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