( Courtesy Northwest Cherry Growers )

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, Northwest cherry growers are optimistic about export opportunities this season.

About 35% of the Northwest cherry crop has gone to export markets in recent years, according to a news release from commodity group Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash.

“Our key markets of China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam are handling the pandemic very well and businesses have started to reopen,” Keith Hu, vice president of international business development, said in a news release. “Due to lost revenues, retailers are very keen on the arrival of Northwest cherries, and we intend to run aggressive promotion campaigns in those markets this summer.”

While a stronger U.S. dollar will slow sales to markets including Australia, Brazil and the Philippines, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, is confident overall exports will perform better than expected as the pandemic continues in the U.S.

“However, we are lucky that our core volume markets of China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam seem to have handled the COVID-19 outbreak as well as can be hoped and are well on the way to recovery,” Thurlby said in the release.

Just how many boxes those countries take is the “million-dollar question,” he said. A realistic estimate is six million 20-pound boxes, Thurlby said in the release. That could end up being 30% of production, which is expected to be lower than in several years.

In 2017, Northwest cherry exporters shipped more than a combined 7 million boxes to Canada, China, Taiwan and the Republic of Korea, commonly known as South Korea.

Exporters of the crop ship 95% of the cherries by air, and although there are fewer flights available, low fuel costs will help them deliver fruit at competitive prices.

“Three out of four of our key markets are major airline transit hubs in Northeast Asia (Seoul, Taipei and Shanghai),” Hu said in the release. “Therefore, getting both direct commercial and cargo flights to China, Taiwan and Korea will not be an issue.”

By June, airports in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles will have regular flights to northeast  Asian cities from these airlines, according to the release:

  • Korean Air
  • Asiana Air
  • EVA Air
  • China Airlines (Taiwan)
  • Delta
  • United
  • ANA
  • UPS
  • FedEx
  • China Eastern Cargo
  • Air China Cargo
  • Korean Air Cargo
  • Asiana Air Cargo
  • China Airlines Cargo
  • Polar Cargo

For more coverage on how the global pandemic is affecting trade, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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