Aftershocks of sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea have some local officials worried they might soon have to stave off an invasion on New York apple farms. The worry comes after European Union sanctions on Russia have forced Poland, Europe’s leading apple exporter, to pivot to alternative buyers in the international fruit marketplace.
Poland hopes to offset the loss of Russia, which accounted for more than half of Polish apple exports, through markets in China, Vietnam and, potentially, the United States. New York officials, however, are worried that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s potential fast-tracking of Polish fruit exports could ultimately bring bad apples — and maybe, invasive pests — to New York, which nationally trails only Washington State in apple production.
“First and foremost, we don’t need more apples in our marketplace,” said Jim Allen, president of theNew York Apple Association. “But if in fact they do come, we’re more concerned with a disease or a pest.”
“It makes absolutely no sense that we would invite these apples and pears from Poland into the U.S. if the USDA is not sure they have put controls in place to ensure invasive pests and diseases do not wind up being shipped into the U.S. alongside their fruit,” Schumer said in July, also noting the damage other imported species like the Asian brown marmorated stink bug have wrought on growers. Allen agreed: “The apple industry is a huge economic driver for New York … so it is vitally important to keep our apples safe from new threats from invasive pests,” he wrote in a joint statement with Schumer.
Local experts, however, are striking less-alarmist tones. “Obviously it wouldn’t be acceptable to take fruit from any region that had not been assessed and cleared for possible contamination by exotic pest species not found in the U.S. — I assume that would be a given,” Art Agnello, a professor of entomology at Cornell University, wrote in an email Friday.
While Agnello advised caution when it comes to Polish imports, he also said there are plenty of safeguards already in place. “People are very wary of new things coming in” to American agricultural markets, he said.
Kerick Cox, meanwhile, said that while pathogens could certainly make their way to American fruit farms, the chances aren’t worrisome. Cox, a Cornell plant pathologist, cited monilinia polystroma — a sugar-loving fungus that rots some fruit — as a potential byproduct of imports from Poland, where fungicides differ from those used in the United States. Not visible to the naked eye, the “pathogen can get a foothold” after which it “reproduces like crazy,” Cox said. That could be problematic, should American farmers start growing Polish varieties. But Agnello said that seems unlikely for one reason: The quality of Polish apples just isn’t that good.