Despite trade hiccups in China and Russia, continuing strong export sales of U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables to Canada and Mexico will help boost 2014-15 exports to record levels, a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report predicts.

The report said the fiscal 2015 (October 2014 to September 2015) export forecast for fresh fruit and vegetables are a record $7.9 billion, up $200 million from 2014. Overall horticultural exports (including processed fruits and vegetables and nursery items) are forecast at a record $37 billion, up $2.9 billion.

The USDA said in the forecast that fresh fruit and vegetable exports to Canada and Mexico are expected to continue expanding.

USDA statistics show berries are the top U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable commodity shipped to Canada, with sales in 2013 tallying $613 million, up from $591 million in 2012 and $541 million in 2011.

Lettuce, grapes, apples and other vegetables are also top U.S. fresh export commodities to Canada, according to the USDA.

Apples are the leading fresh produce item shipped to Mexico, with sales in 2013 pegged at $332 million, up from $284 million in 2012 and $199 million in 2011. Pears, grapes and potatoes also rate high in export sales to Mexico.

Ranking as the fourth largest customer after Canada, Mexico and Japan, South Korea is a fast-growing market for U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable exports, with fresh fruit sales rising from $121 million in 2009 to $356 million in 2013.

Russia and China status

China, the eighth-largest market for U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables last year, imported $115 million in U.S. fruit in 2013, up from $55 million in 2009.

After opening the market for Washington red and golden delicious apples in 1993, China shut down access for those imports early in 2012 because of a reported phytosanitary issue. U.S. industry advocates hope that trade barrier is removed this year.

Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said inspectors from China were coming to Washington state in September.

“We hope we have a successful visit that will reopen the market for reds and goldens and eventually to full varietal access to China,” he said.

Chinese officials also were expected to talk with New York apple industry leaders about market access, Schlect said.

Russia, 20th-largest destination for U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables in 2013, is closed to fruits and vegetables because of trade sanctions imposed by Russia this summer.

While Russia isn’t a big market for U.S. apples, Schlect said the ban on imports of fruit from Europe could cause trade disruptions in U.S. export markets in the Middle East and other regions.

Still, Schlect said most Northwest exporters believe the 2014 expected record crop year will see another strong year for exports.