Another strong season expected for Northwest cherry exports

05/06/2011 02:02:00 PM
Tom Karst

WENATCHEE, Wash. — The weak value of the U.S. dollar will help Northwest cherry export business for 2011, marketers said in April.

“We expect a good year for exports this year,” said Bob Mast, vice president of marketing for Wenatchee-based Columbia Marketing International Inc.

In 2010, 28.4% of the 14 million 20-pound box Northwest cherry crop was exported. That translated to about 4 million 20-pound boxes, according to James Michael, with Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima.

Canada took 1.4 million boxes in 2010, while Taiwan, Hong Kong and China together took about 1.31 million boxes. Japan demanded 305,000 boxes of Northwest cherries, with Australia importing 250,000 boxes.

South Korea also bought about a quarter of a million boxes of Northwest cherries.

“Korea is an up and coming market,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee. “All the Asian markets are real important to us.”

The weak U.S. dollar is helping make cherries affordable. The exchange rate in late April would allow Canadian importers to purchase a $35 box of U.S. fruit for $33 in Canadian funds. That’s a big improvement from March 2009, when the same $35 box of U.S. fruit would have cost $43 in Canadian dollars.

Michael said China and Canada appear to be improving markets for U.S. cherry exporters. In 2008, Canada accounted for 39% of U.S. cherry exports, while Japan took 14% of U.S. cherries. China grabbed 6.5% of U.S. cherry exports in 2008.

Michael said the Northwest Cherry Growers has export promotion programs in 18 countries, with limited efforts in several more. The Washington State Fruit Commission received $1.13 million in fiscal year 2011 to promote cherries and other Washington stone fruit.

Market Access Program funds help fund promotion efforts in Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Mexico, the European Union, China, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

The extent of demand from Japan, battered earlier this year by a severe earthquake and devastating tsunami, remains an open question, Michael said.

While Japan is a significant customer of cherries, it has become a less important part of the export mix in the past 10 years, said Desmond O’Rourke, president of Belrose Inc., Pullman, Wash.

Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticulture Council, Yakima, said exporters are trying to stay on top of stringent testing for minimum pesticide residue levels in various markets, particularly in Taiwan and South Korea.

Last year, Willett said exporters lost up to $4.4 million in South Korea and $8.2 million in Taiwan because of rejections relating to the testing regime.

U.S. cherry imports have been on the rise from the Southern Hemisphere, particularly Chile.

In 2008, statistics showed Chile supplied 91% of U.S. cherry imports.

USDA statistics show U.S. cherry imports from Chile through early April totaled 49.59 million pounds, up from 22.86 million pounds a year ago.

The growth of the Southern Hemisphere cherry deal is a positive for U.S. cherry marketers, O’Rourke said.

“The Chileans have pretty much doubled the amount of cherries, and pricing didn’t drop that much,” he said.



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