The short 2022 apple harvest and myriad export challenges — from tariffs to tangled global transport — have taken Washington apple exports to the lowest level in 20 years.

So, the Washington Apple Commission, the industry organization tasked with promoting the state’s apples in export markets, faces some uncertainty when planning for its activities over the next few years. When the commission’s board met in Wenatchee this week, leaders decided to create a subcommittee to focus on developing strategy and vision around future exports and determine if more funding is needed to support that vision. 

“As an industry, we will continue to export. We’re in a period of low exports, but it will change,” said West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers and one of the commissioners who will serve on the new subcommittee.

The return of normal crop sizes will buoy the commission’s ability to do its promotional work, said Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, but he supported the idea to set up a subcommittee to help the organization adapt to the future. 

“I think this mission could use a little bit better budget,” he said, citing the matching funds the commission receives from federal programs for promotions. “We get such a good return on our budget with the match.”

For the 2022–23 budget, the commission received $5.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program, which requires a $2 million grower match, and another $1.3 million in Agricultural Trade Promotion Program funding, comprising the majority of the commission’s $10.7 million operating budget. Grower assessments — set at 3.5 cents per box — supply the rest of the operating funds and are estimated at about $3.5 million for the 100-million-box crop harvested in 2022.

by Kate Prengaman