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Climate change and trade war: How do you like them apples?

 

A is for apple. Every schoolchild knows that.

But what those kids — along with their parents, grandparents and teachers — likely do not know is just how precarious life has become for many of the hundreds and hundreds of apple farmers in the Pacific Northwest.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Elizabeth Mehren is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Before joining the faculty, she spent 25 years working as a national correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, based by turn in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City and New England. She covered presidential, gubernatorial and congressional campaigns from 1980 to 2006, as well as major breaking news events. Her achievements include participation in the Times’ Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

The dual whammy of climate change and Draconian tariffs imposed by President Trump has forced a rash of foreclosures, bankruptcies and wasted crops.

Loan delinquencies among small farmers are skyrocketing. Bankers once considered friends suddenly are playing hardball, calling in debts and refusing to offer the new loans farmers rely on.

The crisis is not limited to apples either.

Many foreign markets once hungry for pears, cherries, hazelnuts and other crops that thrive in Oregon and Washington have essentially evaporated, due to international trade disputes.

Freak weather events — punishing hailstorms in early September, for instance — do not discriminate when they play havoc with agriculture.

An overall decline in fruit consumption among Americans in recent years has not favored any particular product, but has resulted in declining fruit sales since the start of this century.

But the humble apple occupies an iconic position that elevates it above status as a mere commodity. Consider the outsized role apples have played in art, literature, poetry and music.

The Bible speaks only of forbidden fruit, but when it came time to portray Eve in the Garden of Eden, painters handed her an apple.

Shakespeare served apples for dessert in at least one play, “Henry IV, Part II.” In what was apparently some weird ancient Greek pickup line, Plato wrote “I throw the apple at you” in his seventh Epigram.

When King Arthur and Merlin sailed off through the mist to a land called Avalon, they chose a destination named for the ancient Welsh word for apple.

As for music, we could start with “William Tell,” then devolve to “The Happy Farmer,” the sole piece my musically challenged but athletically gifted son mastered in three years of piano lessons.

It was a falling apple that prompted Isaac Newton to come up with the theory of gravity. Steve Jobs did not choose a pomegranate as the symbol of the product I am now typing on. That city on the East Coast is not known colloquially as the Big Banana.

And pop quiz! What comes after the phrase “as American as…”? If you guessed “lemon meringue,” you’re out of luck.

Each time you bite into a crisp Granny Smith, you are probably unaware of the proud and ancient heritage of a fruit that originated millions of years ago in the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan. You may not also realize that an apple contains about 57,000 genes, the largest number of any plant sequenced to date, and nearly twice that of a human, at 30,000 genes.

America’s first-known orchard was planted in 1625 on Boston’s Beacon Hill. Today, with more than 200 apple varieties raised in 32 states, the United States ranks No. 2 in global apple production, behind only China.

Most apple farms in this country are small, 100 acres or so, and are maintained by families whose love for their harvests passes from one generation to the next. About 7,500 commercial farmers collectively raise 240 million bushels of apples per year in the U.S., generating $4 billion annually.

But that figure pales beside the collective annual salaries of Fortune 500 CEOs, which may be why the steep drop in revenue for Northwest apple farmers has garnered little attention and — except among farmers themselves — scant outrage.

Until quite recently, about one in four apples grown in the United States was exported to a foreign market. In 2017-2018, Mexico, Canada and India were the top three export destinations.

In India, the same shiny Red Delicious apples that are shunned by most U.S. consumers are considered great delicacies. Friends in the Hood River Valley, who farm orchards planted by their grandfathers in 1908, developed a variety with a vibrant crimson hue especially for that market.

For years, those deep red apples were their cash cow. But their 2018 crop went to juice processors, the lowest price point on the fruit market, after India responded to Trump trade tariffs by imposing a 70% tariff on U.S. apples.

My friends let their 2019 crop of these bold red beauties fall to the ground, because it was not cost-effective to pick them, even for juice. “These tariffs are killing us,” one of them said.

In 2015, U.S. apple farmers received full, reciprocal access to the market in China. Swiftly, that country became one of their top export markets.

But starting in 2018, trade conflict curtailed that market as well. Exports dropped 27% after China slapped a 50% tariff on U.S. apples.

Tightened enforcement of immigration policies has hit these farmers hard as well. Harvesting of fruits grown on trees is done primarily by hand, and few U.S. workers are willing to take on this difficult chore.

What’s more, increased tariffs on imported aluminum and steel have made it tough for farmers with sharply diminished incomes to repair or replace failing equipment.

Augmenting the impact of global politics, Mother Nature has pulled some nasty tricks on regional fruit farmers. With ice formations the size of golf balls, a hailstorm in the early fall all but obliterated the 2019 crop of another Hood River Valley apple farmer I know.

Early, intense heat spells also have posed threats, inducing fruit to mature too soon.

The current contentious political environment makes a speedy end to the trade wars seem unlikely. And the climate change conundrum cannot be fully curtailed as long as so many people continue to deny its existence.

To combat declining U.S. fruit consumption, do your part.

Go out and eat an apple. Do it today.

In any case, at the risk of making an outrageously bad pun, it’s all food for thought.

 CUTLINE

Comments

Don Dix

From the article --'Freak weather events — punishing hailstorms in early September' -- really?

Has anyone ever seen or heard of a grain crop smashed to the ground by a summer thunderstorm just before harvest? Or a late freeze killing plants in a vegetable garden which was meticulously planted the same time each year? Locally, last summer was't warm enough for the usual crop of tomato and peppers (key words -- wasn't warm enough). And a fall hailstorm in the Gorge has never happened before -- right!

For billions of years the climate of the earth has done nothing but change, and yet a sample size of 140 years (weather records) is conclusive man is the problem? Really?

Every time a 'weather event' is used as an example of climate change, it is only to be used to 'promote' the cause (heat wave for example), and predictions are always hedged by 'could', 'might', 'possibly' to cover failure (disappearance of Arctic sea ice). If it happens to be a cold event (midwest parade of blizzards in winter), that's just 'weather'. How convenient!

In the early 1800s, the earth was coming out of The Little Ice Age. It's elementary to know that means a gradual warm up, not a catastrophic heat influx. The Sun was inactive (Maunder Minimum) during the LIA, and it became active afterwards (all of the Earth's heat comes from the Sun).

Believe what you must, but believe based on historical evidence and solid facts, not some made-up hypothesis that is not theory (gravity). The greatest fear to the gw/cc claims is knowledge of fact, not cherry-picked examples that only support the flawed analysis. You 'might' be surprised what you discover!

msantone

climate has one of its definitions 'weather' of a place. climate also has a definition which refers 'to the general atmosphere or situation of a place'. to think we humans and our current behavior do not impact and change our climate is wonderfully humble. it makes no deference. we will continue until we have sucked all the oil and gas out of the earth. let the good times roll.

Don Dix

There are over 6000 items made from petroleum. Begin with plastic (all plastic is made from petroleum), which is used in cars, houses, toys, computers, phones, and clothing. Everyday petroleum-based items include toothpaste and toothbrushes, paint, shampoo, shaving cream, soap, aspirin, hand lotion, eyeglasses, bandages, perfume, ink, lipstick, ....

Which of the above is anyone willing to do without? House, car, phone?

And once again, a 140 yr. (weather records) sample size is used to define the climate (pick a location). The norm for averaging measurements is the last 30 yrs years. Neither of these figures are a hiccup compared to the age of the Earth (4.5 billions yrs.). Is the sample size large enough to make any concrete conclusion?

It's elementary deduction to see the flaws in the hypothesis of gw/cc. if one cares to actually study the issue.

msantone

we're not going to do without. this civilization is on a roll with wonderful products and an convenient easy life style, at least, here in the 'developed countries'. we will use it until it is gone and the stuff we made and use poison our world. no turning away. sorry kids, sorry great, great, great grand kids. just know these last few generations had a good life.

tagup

We Americans treat the climate with the same indifference that we treat the national deficit.....both will create major changes in how our kids live their lives in the future......

RobsNewsRegister

So what do you want president Trump to do? Roll over and play dead to the Chinese communists while they decimate us in trade and steal our technology? That's what the last three presidents did.

Sure, there has been some pain from tariffs to force China to come to the negotiating table but what about the gutting of the industrial sector of our economy and those millions of jobs we lost the past couple of decades? Now that the phase one deal is signed China will buy more of our agriculture again.