In Eastern Washington, the end of summer brings the familiar sight of trucks piled high with apple bins making their way down our highways. Also familiar are roadside signs warning residents and visitors of prohibitions on the importation of homegrown apples into commercial growing areas.
While these may signs just fade into the scenery, their message is critical to safeguarding our state’s agricultural health.
This issue came to light this week, as Gov. Jay Inslee toured Central Washington communities impacted by the recent catastrophic wildfires.
We welcome the governor, as all our hearts are with those who have been impacted, and we appreciate his concern for the victims of these fires.
However, by delivering homegrown maggot-infested apples to residents, his well-intentioned actions violated our state’s strict quarantines. I do not believe it was the governor’s intent to introduce an invasive pest into one of the most productive apple-producing regions in the world, but it is a serious violation of state law that puts Washington’s farming communities at great risk.
The iconic Washington apple is famous around the world.
As our largest agricultural export, the apple industry has a significant economic footprint, creating thousands of jobs statewide. There are about 175,000 acres of apple orchards in Washington, and on average, Washington apple growers produce 128 million boxes of apples per year — the equivalent of 2.3 million tons.
I recently visited Washington State University’s experimental orchard, where world-class scientists are conducting research to ensure our state remains a leader in apple production and innovation.
As Washingtonians, we have a unique responsibility to protect our tree fruit industry. Invasive pests like apple maggots can infest entire orchards in a matter of days or weeks, effectively leaving producers with nothing and causing extreme damage to our fruit industry as a whole. Safeguarding the areas where these fruits are commercially produced is of the utmost importance to not only our state’s economic well-being, but the livelihoods of our apple growers and those they employ.
Apple maggots are primarily spread through homegrown fruit and municipal waste, which is why Washington state law designates apple maggot quarantines throughout Central and Eastern Washington. These areas prohibit the transportation of homegrown fruit in order to prevent the infestation of our productive agricultural region.
Unfortunately, it is likely that many Washingtonians unknowingly make the same mistake as Governor Inslee. Therefore, it is my hope the governor will use his violation as an opportunity to help educate the public about the importance of adhering to quarantine areas and fruit transport bans.
As a lifelong farmer, I understand the importance of protecting our orchards from invasive species.
As a former Republican Director of the state Department of Agriculture, working under Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire, it was my responsibility to work in a bipartisan way to educate the public and enforce apple maggot quarantines.
The highway signs are there for a reason: They indicate critical borders that are designed to protect our apple industry. Quarantine violations are serious offenses, punishable by fines.
We should all be proud of the Washington apple. Governor Inslee regularly wears a Washington State Apple Commission lapel pin, so I know he is aware of the important role the apple industry plays in our state’s economy, history, and culture.
He should take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge responsibility for his mistake, accept the penalties, and prove that everyone — even the governor — must take these quarantine laws seriously. By taking accountability, he can spread awareness about how and why we should work together to protect and preserve the world-famous Washington apple.