Apple growers: Trade war likely to bear bad fruits

Agustus Morgan, a picker from Jamaica for Diane Kearns, owner of Fruit Hill Orchard Inc., works in the apple orchard Sept. 12, 2017. Area apple growers are concerned that retaliatory tariffs from China and India in response to U.S. tariffs could lower the price for apples.

WINCHESTER — Local apple growers are worried that a trade war is going to take a bite out of their business.

In response to tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on Chinese machinery and electronics, China has imposed a 25 percent tariff on 100 American products, including apples.

In May, India announced a 30 percent tariff on U.S. apples and other goods in response to U.S.-imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Both China and India are major purchasers of American apples.

“It’ll be instant,” Frederick County apple grower Phil Glaize said about the impact of tariffs on the local apple industry. “Apples don’t keep.”

Frederick County has 5,114 acres of apple orchards, which is the most of any county in Virginia and the 14th nationally, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which is the most recent census. Data collection for the 2017 census ends next week.

Glaize, who exports some of his apple products to India, said the tariffs could result in a glut of apples in the American market and drive down the amount of money growers can get for them.

Washington state, the country’s largest apple producer, sells most of its apples to India, Canada and Mexico — all countries that Trump has targeted or threatened with tariffs. A decrease in the number of apples being exported from Washington will likely drive the apple industry there to drop prices and flood the domestic market.

“We can’t survive beyond a couple of years of low prices,” Glaize said. “Washington grows so many apples. We need those apples to be exported.”

Virginia is the nation’s sixth-largest producer of apples.

At one time, apples grown in China undercut the domestic apple market, Glaize said. But a growing Chinese economy has turned the country into an importer of American apples.

Diane Kearns, president of Fruit Hill Orchard Inc., Frederick County’s largest apple producer, said the tariffs make her “uncomfortable. It’s one more thing that is not super-positive.”

The U.S. apple industry is grappling with other challenges, including labor issues. A trade war is just another problem, she said.

“You can’t make money doing this anymore,” Kearns said. “I just don’t see any way out of it now.”

Kearns said Fruit Hill Orchard’s apples are mostly sold to processors, who turn them into sauce, juice and other products, so she’s less likely to feel the sting from tariffs right away. But a glut in the domestic market would certainly lower the price her apples command.

Apples aren’t the only local crop hit by tariffs. According to the agriculture census, nearly 1,000 acres in Frederick County are dedicated to soybeans. Soybeans are Virginia’s top exported crop, and the largest purchaser is China, which has reportedly ramped up its soybean purchases from Brazil.

The Trump administration announced this week that it would disperse $12 billion to farmers hurt by the tariffs beginning in September. It’s not clear how much of that money might come to the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at ocastiglia@winchesterstar.com

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