The Washington apple industry was exporting a significant percentage of its crop, long before the Washington Apple Commission was formed. In 1930, seven million boxes, or 25 percent of the crop, were sold overseas.
Until the 1970s, most exports went to Europe and were not considered profitable. Overseas markets were a safety valve that would accept small sizes that were not wanted on the domestic market, former commission manager Joe Brownlow recalled in a 1987 interview.
As the Europeans developed their own fruit-growing industries after the Second World War or imported from nearby countries, U.S. exports plummeted.
In the 1970s, as Red Delicious began to dominate the Washington industry, important new opportunities began to unfold in the Pacific Rim countries, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
Starting in 1984, while Tom Hale was president, the commission made use of federal Targeted Export Promotion funds to promote Washington apples overseas. Washington’s apple exports grew from around 5 million boxes in the mid-1980s to 30 million a decade later.
“We said, it’s a priority with these rising crops that we find outlets, and we understood clearly that the domestic market was saturated to a large degree,” he recalled. “We wanted to find a home outside the United States. All those things came together and that resulted in a very nice growth spurt for Washington apple exports. I think the whole industry was really behind addressing the international trade relations issues,” he said.
Exports have totaled between about 30 and 36 million boxes—about a third of the crop—for the past decade.
Current President Todd Fryhover said that with an export budget of $5.3 million (including $4.8 million in federal Market Access Program funds), the commission has had to focus on markets with the most potential to have a positive impact on grower returns. For example, it no longer has a presence in Canada, because shippers can run their own promotions there, just as they do in the United States.
However, boosting Washington apple sales in many foreign markets will depend on reducing tariffs or eliminating phytosanitary barriers, he added.
The commission provides about $450,000 in funding annually to the Northwest Horticultural Council, which works on international trade issues and represents the Northwest fruit industry on federal political matters.
It also provides about $900,000 to the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the apple industry nationally.