India Loves Washington’s Red Delicious, But New Tariffs May Upset The Export Apple Cart

Aug 3, 2018

When did you last buy a Washington-grown Red Delicious apple? With so many other varieties, maybe it’s been awhile. But did you know Red Delicious is still the king of Washington? Each year, they out-pound every other variety grown. But now, a major market for the plentiful Red Delicious is in jeopardy.

Most produce in India is sold at open-air markets or in road side stands without refrigeration. That's why vendors like the hearty Red Delicious from Washington state that can withstand several days without cold storage.
Credit Washington Apple Commission

At Rooster Ranch outside of Othello, harvest is nearly here.
Rolando Martin walks through a massive block of Red Delicious apples. He supervises this orchard, and several others around the Columbia Basin. In the morning shade, he reaches out to gingerly hold one apple that catches his eye. He goes over its conformation like a racehorse owner might admire a fast mare.

Rolando Martin: “The Coca Cola bottle, so this is what you want to see is typy-ness. This is a typy Red Delicious. So a little elongated, nice broad shoulders.”

A Red Delicious clings onto the last of summer. As harvest nears and the fruit ripens, the apple will turn into the iconic red color we recognize.
Credit Anna King

He means the more the apples look like a Coke bottle, the more money they make.
Washington state now ships more apples to India than nearly anywhere else, besides Mexico. For last season, Washington shipped 7.9 million cartons of apples to India, mostly Red Delicious. And that’s about 70 percent more than the season before.
But this month, India may impose retaliatory tariffs on American products -- including apples. And that could upset the export apple cart.
Red Delicious is a good export apple because it grows easily, and handles well. But it’s sort of at the bottom of the barrel for prices.

Rolando Martin: “The last few years it’s been hard to make money off Red Delicious. So …”
Anna King: “So having less market is not real good, if that happened.”
Rolando Martin: “No, having less market and an abundance of fruit is not good.”
But in India, Red Delicious is highly desirable. There are a couple reasons: Red is an auspicious color in India, so apples are often given as gifts. Red Delicious is similar to the variety of apples that India grows -- so consumers are used to it. And Washington’s Delicious travels well. When it reaches open air markets or road side stands -- it can last several days without refrigeration.

Sumit Saran: “That is a huge advantage compared to any other apple or variety.”

That’s Sumit Saran, the top marketer for the Washington Apple Commission in India.
Saran says, if India ends up imposing a 25 percent tariff, on top of some of the tariffs already in place, it’ll hurt Washington growers. He says there’s no way to make it up, and it will likely push a lot of apples back on the domestic market or to other export markets -- lowering prices. Saran says importers and the fruit vendors in India are nervous.

Sumit Saran: “There is, of course there is worry and people are anxiously waiting for a solution.”

On the other side of the world ...

Todd Fryover: “We’re very concerned about the increase in duty potentially that could happen on August 4th.”

Todd Fryover is the president of the Washington Apple Commission. He represents growers.
Fryover says there's already tariffs on Washington apples going to Mexico and China now. If India piles on, that will mean half of all Washington apple exports will have new tariffs. Washington growers are expecting a good crop this year. But Fryover says most of the largely conservative apple farmers might not be ready for their lower price per bushel this fall.

Todd Fryover: “I think that from the grower community standpoint, I don’t think they [famers] know the specifics. So they’re not talking about India and what the impact is going to be. Or they don’t really realize it’s such an impact to Red Delicious alone.”

Washington farmers have tended this upcoming crop for nearly a year: Pruning, pruning again, pollination, spraying, thinning the fruit -- and now comes harvest.
But with more tariffs possible, it’s not quite clear if these ripening Red Delicious will be a profit or a loss.