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Madison - Wisconsin is projected to produce more cranberries than any other state during this year's harvest, with an estimated crop of approximately 5.2 million barrels of fruit, the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association said Friday citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The next closest state is Massachusetts, which is projected to produce about 2 million barrels in 2016.

The estimated harvest in Wisconsin is part of the approximately 8.6 million barrels of cranberries expected nationwide this year, up slightly from 2015's harvest.

Cranberry production is a nearly $1 billion industry in Wisconsin, employing more than 4,000 people in the state, according  to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

"Growers in Wisconsin expect a better-than-average year as mostly favorable weather conditions were reported, despite a few isolated reports of hail damage," the USDA said in a crop report on Friday.

Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, said in a statement that the oversupply in the cranberry market in recent years seems to be leveling off.

Intensive marketing of the fruit has helped increase worldwide demand.

The state Cranberry Grower's Association, citing  the  U.S.  Cranberry  Marketing  Committee’s  latest  report, said 2015/16 exports of U.S. cranberries increased 7%. China represented the largest increase by percentage, with exports growing 55%. Other international markets include Germany, Poland, Hungary and Mexico.

Domestic sales are also projected to be up 5% this year.

“All of these trends represent promising signs that the market is beginning to shift,” Lochner said in the statement. “There is still significant work to be done, and we are committed to continuing to do our part to stabilize the market and help the industry prosper.”

In addition to the industry’s marketing efforts, during the past two years the U.S. Department of Agriculture has purchased cranberries to incorporate into its food pantry and school lunch programs.

In 2015, Wisconsin growers had a crop of approximately 4.8 million barrels. Wisconsin will begin harvesting its cranberry crop in late September and continue through much of October.

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