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SPOKANE, Wash. — A record crop of apples, coupled with the West Coast port slowdown earlier this year, is taking a toll on Washington apple growers.
Nearly $100 million worth of apples that cannot be sold have been dumped into fields across central Washington, the nation's most productive apple region. The apples are being left to rot and compost in the hot sun, an unusual occurrence for an industry that has found ways to market ever-growing crops.
"If we wouldn't have had the port slowdown, we wouldn't have needed this," Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, said of the dumping.
He estimated that apple exporters lost at least three weeks of their season because of labor problems at West Coast ports. Along with a record supply of apples, that created surpluses that could not be shipped profitably to markets or processors, Fryhover said.
The Washington State Tree Fruit Association estimated $95 million in lost sales because of apples that could not ship, a figure Fryhover considers low.
Washington is by far the nation's largest producer of apples, a crop worth about $2 billion a year to the state's farmers. The 2014 crop totaled a record 150 million boxes, which weigh about 40 pounds each. About a third of the apples each year are exported to more than 60 countries.
The labor dispute that hobbled international trade through West Coast seaports earlier this year didn't officially end until last week, when the union representing dockworkers announced its members had ratified a five-year contract.