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Apple growers biting into foreign markets

The craggy face of Will Rogers Jr. munching into a Washington State Red or Golden Delicious apple is being seen on television screens across the United States this month.

The 10-second TV commercials are part of an unprecedented promotional campaign to move a glut of apples resulting from record harvests in Washington State, the nation's leading apple producer.

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Because of that record harvest, fresh apples have become a bargain -- a point which the Washington Apple Commission hopes to put across to American consumers.

US Department of Agriculture figures put the Washington apple harvest at more than 60 million boxes. The total US harvest in 1980 could reach more than 200 million boxes.

As production increases, prices have been falling, from about $13 to $14 a box in early fall to about $8 a box today.

Some credit the eruption of Mt. St. Helens last May for the bountiful crop, and there is still some debate whether the eruption contributed to the unusually cool spring last year. Whatever the reason, the Pacific Northwest enjoyed almost perfect growing weather during 1980.

Probably more significant, though, is the number of new apple orchards that are being planted in newly irrigated areas of eastern washington outside the traditional growing areas around Wenatchee and Yakima. The trend has caused some industry officials to privately express concern about overproduction.

With the kind of harvests Washington State is getting, the apple commission is turning even more aggressively to foreign markets, with special attention to Taiwan. The Taiwanese already eat a lot of Washington apples, though up to now only the importers themselves have known the source of the fruit, says apple commission spokesman Steve Lutz.

Bending to pressure from the US government, in 1979 Taiwan ended its monopoly over apple imports and allowed Taiwanese distributors to make their own deals on the free market. Overnight, the number of apples shipped to Taiwan from Washington State jumped from about 160,000 boxes in 1978 to more than 3 million in 1979.

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This year, for the first time, the Washington Apple Commission is running television commercials in Taiwan. Current plans call for television commercials in Singapore and Hong Kong as well.

The Commission is spending about $60,000 on its Taiwan commercials. Expenditures for overseas commercials could become larger, says Mr. Lutz, as the commission continues to promote in other foreign markets -- such as Saudi Arabia , which already buys some Washington apples.

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