A low-valued U.S. dollar will help fresh fruit and vegetable exports set new records in the next year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA estimated fiscal 2012 (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2012) exports of fresh fruits and vegetables at an all-time high of $6.9 billion, up $400 million from fiscal 2011 and about $1 billion more than fiscal 2010.

The agency said exports to Japan, Europe and Canada helped fuel the gains.

Including items like processed fruits and vegetables and nuts in export numbers, the USDA projected horticultural exports will top $28 billion in fiscal 2012, $2.5 billion higher than 2011.

The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan did not cause a serious disruption in exports to Japan, said Paul Shimizu, president of Jaspo Inc., Bellevue, Wash., an importer and exporter of fresh produce.

“Everybody worried if they were going to eat a luxury item like the cherries,” he said.

However, Shimizu said California ended up with similar cherry export volume to Japan and the Northwest was down perhaps 20% from a year ago.

The weak dollar helped U.S. produce compete in Japan, he said. The dollar traded at about 77 yen in early September, compared to perhaps as high as 115 yen to the dollar in the last five years.

That means a Japanese trader could import a $30 carton of U.S. fresh produce for 2,310 yen today, compared with 3,450 yen a few years ago.

U.S. fresh fruit imports for fiscal 2012 are projected at $7.5 billion, up from $7.1 billion for fiscal 2011 and $6.8 billion in 2010.

U.S. fresh vegetable imports for 2012 were projected at $6.1 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 2011 and $5.18 billion in 2010.