Friday, June 30, 2017

Access to Chinese market a ‘game-changer’ for Okanagan cherry producers

Access to Chinese market a ‘game-changer’ for Okanagan cherry producers



Okanagan cherry farmers are anticipating a banner year for international exports as up to 80 per cent of the valleys cherries are now being shipped to overseas markets.
“We’ve got more demand than we can possibly meet,” said David Geen, owner of Coral Beach Farms in Lake Country.
Geen is capitalizing on access to new foreign markets like China.
“That’s tremendous that we got that market open. There is a population of a billion people in China,” he said.
It is resulting in higher returns for producers as Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product.
“We tend to get more moderate temperatures which means bigger fruit, sweeter fruit, juicier fruit. And also the fact that we are a long ways north puts us into the August marketing window when the U.S. is pretty much out of the game,” said Geen.
Two years ago, BC struck a trade deal to allow cherry producers unfettered access to the lucrative Chinese market.
Some growers and the provincial government hire trade representatives to be in China during the cherry season.
But the industry can be volatile.
Cherries are a soft fruit and can be easily damaged, even by heavy rain.
A record $29.7 million worth of BC cherries were shipped to China in 2015 but that plummeted more than 40 per cent to $16.8 million last year.
“Some blocks in orchards did not even get picked because they were so badly damaged. So when the cherries aren’t there, they aren’t being packed, aren’t being shipped, not being sold,” said Sukhpaul Bal, President of the B.C. Cherry Association.
However Bal is optimistic this season will be more fruitful.
“Maybe 20 years down the road we will look back and say the direct access into China was a game-changer for the tree fruits industry.”