The Skagit Valley is almost halfway between two of the Pacific Northwest largest markets — Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia — but, for some produce shippers in the valley, the Canadian market might as well be a million miles away.
The reasons are understandable, said Dean Cunningham, vice president of Mount Vernon, Wash.-based potato grower-shipper Washington Lettuce & Vegetable/Hughes Farms Inc.
“The Canadians are very loyal to their local growers also up there,” he said.
Some Skagit Valley spuds and other fruits and vegetables make it north of the border, inevitably, Cunningham said.
However, he said, Canada, is a relatively small percentage of what Cunningham’s company ships, he said.
“It’s more of a better market, say, back East than, say British Columbia is,” he said.
Vancouver’s loss is a gain for Seattle wholesalers like Charlie’s Produce, which sources a lot of its regionally grown product in the Skagit Valley, said Diane Dempster, manager of Charlie’s locally grown program.
“The border presents a barrier for sales and presents a whole different game for sales into Canada,” Dempster said.
There are also plenty of homegrown products already in Canada, Dempster said.
“Canada has a really diverse growing region just north of the border and it’s real similar to the Skagit Valley in terms of layout and production, so they have a lot of locally grown production in that area,” Dempster said.
Vancouver produce dealers have access to the same items that the Skagit Valley produces, Dempster said.
“They grow potatoes, they grow almost the same things, because it’s quite fertile in the Delta region there,” she said.
Reaching the Canadian market is an often-discussed topic of conversation at the Northwest Agriculture Business Center in Mount Vernon, which works to support agriculture in the area, said Dave Bauermeister, executive director.
“We always talk about it, but we never get there, and we’d certainly like to see more going up there,” Bauermeister said.
He said “border issues” present a challenge, but there are others, too.
“We were looking at some products last year to get into Vancouver, but we’re so busy we just don’t quite get there,” he said.
Andy Ross, owner of Mount Vernon-based Skagit Flats Farm, said his products occasionally reach Vancouver.
“There are some distributors up there who do pick up around here regularly, but I don’t think it’s a major market for any growers around here,” Ross said.
He described Vancouver as a “significant market” for some growers, since it’s just an hour’s drive north of the valley.
“I think it’s significant but not a major market for most growers,” he said.
Cliff Corwin, marketing and sales manager of Skagit Valley’s Best, marketing and sales subsidiary of Smith & Morrison Farms LLC in Mount Vernon, said his company’s potatoes reach numerous Canadian markets, but the timing has to be right.
“There’s a small window when they’re through with their local stuff and they’re looking to buy from us — usually somewhere after their Thanksgiving (Columbus Day in the U.S.) and will go probably until Florida gets going,” he said.