July 20–YAKIMA, Wash. — Midway through the year, Yakima County’s agricultural production generally looks better than average.
While some of the leading crops — hops, cherries, apples, mint — are doing well, asparagus growers had a rough year with a late start and depressed market prices for their produce.
Fruit growers also are waiting to see how President Donald Trump’s trade wars with China and other major importers of Washington fruit will affect their bottom lines, but they are hopeful.
“Most growers will stay in business next year,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission.
Here’s a rundown:
Hop farmers expanded their acreage slightly this year, adding 800 acres to their fields as craft beer production remains a force in the hop market, said Ann George, executive director of Washington Hops. Last year, Washington growers harvested 38,438 acres.
Washington is the No. 1 producer of hops in the nation.
The alpha hops — which give beer its bitter base flavor — are starting to bloom, and George said it appears growers are headed toward a good average crop.
But the aroma hops, which are in greater demand from craft beer brewers, may be either average or just below due to premature blooming in some of the varieties, George said.
“At this point, it looks like it will be a good quality crop.”
She does not anticipate any problems with tariffs, as the United States and Germany are the world’s largest hop producers, and nations like China would not be able to sustain their beer industries if they had to rely on native-grown hops.
This year’s cherry harvest is wrapping up, with 18.5 million boxes of a 24-million-box harvest already shipped out, Thurlby said.
Weather was ideal this year for cherry production, with a warm May, and Thurlby said cherry growers were ready to take advantage of it.
While it was not quite the 26.43 million box record set in 2017, Thurlby said the quantity was good, as was the quality.
“When you get thousands of responses from consumers that they are the best cherries they ever ate, it’s a good year,” Thurlby said.
There are still a few cherries coming off trees in Tieton, Naches Heights, Selah Heights and Naches, and Thurlby anticipates the harvest wrapping up next week.
He said Trump’s trade wars are a “dark cloud” on an otherwise good year, with China increasing its tariff on cherries from 10 to 50 percent in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Last year, he said Chinese buyers purchased 3 million boxes of cherries.
Other stone tree fruits — peaches, apricots, nectarines and pears — look like they will have good years as well. Growers have started harvesting the peaches and nectarines, and are most of the way through the apricot harvest. Thurlby said the size of the fruit appears to be good, owing to the weather.
Apple crops appear to be settling into a new average, with the 2017 production at 134 million bushels of fresh apples, and 2018 shaping up to offer the same, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.
This year’s weather conditions were moderate, which Fryhover said has helped apples grow in size and quality. It’s also a more diverse crop, Fryhover said.
“We are growing more Honeycrisps and other varietals, and we have Cosmic Crisps coming in,” Fryhover said. Commercial growers were planting 5 million trees for the Cosmic Crisp, a Honeycrisp variant developed by Washington State University that will be ready to harvest in the 2019 season.
But while apple production looks good, Fryhover said the worry is selling them overseas. Three of the state’s largest overseas markets for apples — Mexico, India and China — have either enacted or are planning to enact additional tariffs on imported apples in retaliation for the Trump administration’s tariffs.
Mexico, Washington’s largest overseas market, has imposed a 20 percent tariff on apples, which Fryhover said has reduced the volume of apples going south of the border, while China, the No. 3 importer, has targeted apples in its retaliatory tariffs.
India is expected to enact a 25 percent tariff on American apples by Aug. 4, which would push its total import tax on apples to 75 percent. India is Washington’s second-largest overseas market for apples.
“The industry is concentrating on shipping big volumes (to India) before Aug. 4,” Fryhover said.
About one-third of the state’s apple crop is exported, Fryhover said.
Washington’s mint growers had an above-average first cutting earlier this summer, with yields expected to be about 90 pounds of mint oil per acre, said Shane Johnson, executive director of the Washington Mint Growers Association.
Washington is the nation’s leading spearmint oil producer, and third for peppermint, with 60 percent of the mint acreage in Yakima County.
Johnson said a warm May and a “decent” June were good for the first cutting, which recently concluded. While this week’s hot weather is not kind to newly cut mint, Johnson said there is sufficient water to help the crop grow back for the second cutting in August and September.
“Overall, I think mint farmers are pretty pleased with how things are going,” Johnson said. At this point, he said China and India, which already tax mint imports, do not appear to be adding extra tariffs to the product.
This year was not one of the better years for Washington’s asparagus crop, the head of the Washington Asparagus Commission said.
This year’s season got off to a late start due to cool weather in the spring, said Alan Schreiber, the commission’s executive director.
“The price during the season was never great, but it was good for the first half of the season,” Schreiber said. “The last half of the season, it was pretty low. Most growers stopped harvesting asparagus because it was not worth the price.”
Schreiber said he did not know why the price fell. He was still waiting for final numbers of the total asparagus crop and the prices.
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