- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 11, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Washington’s new apple crop, easily the nation’s largest, is projected to be 125.2 million 40-pound cartons this season, the third largest in state history.

The Washington Apple Commission last week projected this year’s crop will be 10.5 percent lower than last year’s record crop.

The Washington apple season officially begins on Sept. 1, although the commission said harvest has already started on some early Golden Delicious and Gala varieties in the state.

About one-third of Washington apples are exported to more than 60 countries each year.

The commission said apple sizes are expected to return to normal this year, after being a little larger the past two seasons. The larger apples are not as popular on the export market, the commission said.

New market opportunities have opened up in China, which agreed in the spring to accept all varieties of apples from the United States.

As a result, Washington growers are gearing up for a rapid start to the season for Gala exports, a variety popular in China.

Despite a record crop, the 2014 export season was hampered by several challenges, including the Russian ban on U.S. agricultural exports; the West Coast port slowdown that hit just as the peak export shipment season began in October; the recall of apples from a California packing facility for listeria that provoked panic in Asian markets; and the influence of the strong U.S. dollar that made apples more expensive in other countries.

“With the West Coast port labor issues resolved, and the early start to the season, the export picture is certainly looking brighter,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the apple commission.

The Washington Apple Commission is a grower-funded organization that promotes the fruit overseas.

Bigger is not always better. Last year’s crop was so big that growers ended up dumping some of the fruit that could not be sold. Some apples became too ripe even to be diverted to juice and applesauce makers and other processors, and were left in fields to rot, officials said.

Washington is by far the nation’s largest producer of apples, a crop worth about $2 billion a year to the state’s farmers.

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