Michigan Apples To Mexico

February 27, 2004
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LANSING — Apples from Michigan orchards will now be consumed south of the U.S.-Mexico border, helping growers here breathe a little easier.

Growers will now export Michigan apples to Mexico for the first time, possibly establishing Mexico as the state’s largest export market. The apple is Michigan’s first fresh fruit to be sold there.

Local growers and state apple industry officials say the new market will provide relief to farms that have been consolidating over the years as a result of competition from other countries where the cost of labor and production is lower and environmental regulations are less restrictive.

“It’s always good exposure when you export your product,” said Bonnie Moelker, who owns the Grand Rapids-based Moelker Orchards & Farm Market, which has been around since 1907.

Moelker produces 22 varieties of apples at her 55-acre orchard. She said she prefers selling her crop at her own farmer’s market rather than exporting because it’s more profitable, but she said new markets can’t be bad for business.

“We use workers from Mexico, so it goes both ways,” she said.

Michigan typically produces 18 varieties of the fruit. On average, the state produces 21 million bushels a year, making apples the state’s largest fruit crop. Michigan follows only Washington and New York in volume.

Between 40 percent and 45 percent of the crop is sold as fresh apples. Roughly 3 percent to 5 percent of the fresh apples are exported — two-thirds going to Latin America.

“There are destinations there where we can be competitive,” said Denise Yockey, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. “They’re looking for a smaller apple with a little red.”

And that type of apple is different than preferred varieties in the United States, creating a greater demand for more of Michigan’s 18 varieties, Yockey said.

Red Delicious dominates roughly 23 percent of state orchards, followed by Golden Delicious at 12 percent.

The apple industry contributes an estimated $500 million to Michigan’s economy annually. Michigan’s 1,100 apple growers take in between $150 million and $200 million annually. Mexico could be worth an additional $6 million annually within five years, Yockey said.

“Our orchards are primarily family farms, not corporate businesses,” she said. “They are a very strong fabric of the community.”

Michigan has had success in exporting dry, edible beans to Mexico for 25 years. Michigan’s strengths in exports also come in processed, canned and dried apples, blueberries, cherries and cranberries.

“It’s been the fresh fruit that has been problematic,” said Bob Craig, director of the agriculture development division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Although many tariffs and export duties have been eliminated, it hasn’t been easy for Michigan growers to enter new foreign markets, Craig said.

The apple industry had to overcome initial export challenges — such as the $250,000 spent on inspections, negotiations and storage — to enter the Mexican market. Michigan used federal funding to meet Mexico’s requirements and brought Mexican fruit inspectors here to oversee the apples’ storage and chilling period, Craig said.

“We have never shipped fresh apples there before,” he said. “This is historic for us.”

Craig predicted that selling fresh blueberries in Mexico could be next for Michigan growers.           

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