The San Joaquin Partnership is a non-profit, private-public economic development corporation assisting business & industry to locate into San Joaquin County, California, including the Cities of Escalon, Lathrop, Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, Stockton and Tracy. Location and expansion services are provided directly to the company and/or indirectly to their site consultant or real estate brokerage
Western Australia has finally agreed to allow cherries to be imported into its market, marking the end of 10 years of negotiations. Now Central Valley cherries, the premier exporter of the California fruit, will be the first U.S. fresh fruit to gain access to Western Australia.
Australia wants cherries
Australia has been reluctant about allowing imports of fruits and vegetables for decades in order to prevent pests and diseases from entering and to protect the market for its domestic growers.
However, U.S. cherries don’t compete directly with Australia’s domestically produced cherries because their growing season is different from ours.
California cherry growers have had access to eastern Australia states since the early 1990s with Washington and Oregon joining the party in 2001.
The first shipment of California cherries into Perth, Australia has already occurred, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Western Australia never did import cherries as the state had different pest standards from the rest of Australia,” said Jim Culbertson, manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board headquartered in Lodi. “Australia is an important market to us, but not a big market because the country’s population isn’t huge.”
U.S. cherry growers shipped $15.6 million in cherries to Eastern Australia in 2009 according to the most recent USDA figures.
Good move, CV led production
Culbertson said, “However, this is a move in the right direction,” an opinion echoed by the USDA which said in a statement, “The decision gives the industry hope that other fresh fruit products will be shipped in years to come.”
The Central Valley’s San Joaquin County produced a total of 57,000 tons of cherries in 2010 on 21,204 acres, a crop valued at more than $184.5 million, which despite being a down yield year, held the number one spot of cherry production in California.
After milk, grapes and walnuts, cherries had the fourth highest crop value among the county’s top ten leading crops for 2010 according to the 2010 Agricultural Commissioner’s Agricultural Report.
The timing of Western Australia’s breaking the import ban was ill-timed, said Culbertson, because it “happened after our season and the Northwest [Washington and Oregon] was able to ship to Australia. We’ll see what it does next year when we can ship there as well.”
Cherry exports to Australia could increase dramatically due to the recent agreement which adds more than two million people to the Australian market for U.S. cherries. While the number of potential cherry aficionados may seem small, it is a population that tends to be financially comfortable and eager to buy the U.S. grown fruit.
Culbertson estimated that sales there “will be around 10,000 packages brought in by air freight because of the time sensitive aspect of the fruit.” He also said opening the market wouldn’t have helped this year because 2011 production was severely affected and reduced by bad spring weather.
Australia’s buyers are very selective, picky in fact, and they stopped buying early fruit, the soft cherries grown in Southern California. Instead, Australian buyers concentrate on Bings and later varieties such as the up-and-coming Chelan and Coral.
Culbertson said opening new markets “will encourage people to plant cherries. The Central Valley acreage remains fairly constant but there are a few new plantings in the Lodi area and I expect to see continued growth.”
Western Australia will join Japan and China in importing Central Valley cherries. “Japan did well despite the devastating earthquake and tsunami,” noted Culbertson. “If we’d had sufficient product we could have shipped one million boxes to Japan.”
As China becomes more westernized and as its refrigeration improves, Culbertson said business with China is picking up. “People from China, brokers, dealers, importer/exporters call all the time from China asking about our cherries.”
However, he said it is a big challenge getting paid for what is exported to China and that while payment for delivered goods is still an issue, the situation is improving.
Hong Kong and beyond
Hong Kong imports of cherries are “part of the China cherry mix with a lot of gray market shipments into mainland China from Hong Kong,” Culbertson said. Almost all shipments to Beijing and Shanghai from the United States. are via air freight.
Australia also exports cherries to China and Japan and the country wants to export to the United States but there are phytosanitary issues preventing their cherries from entering the U.S.
This trade stalemate doesn’t prevent U.S. researchers from spending time in Australia working on assorted projects.
Better times ahead
“We have to fumigate all shipments to Australia for mites,” Culbertson said of the 35,000 boxes sent there in 2010, down from the 67,000 boxes shipped in 2009. “A good, robust crop here means about 70,000 to 100,000 boxes going to Australia. Bad weather killed us in 2010 and 2011.”
And with Western Australia’s additional two million people the cherry market has a good growth potential.
Opening another sales arena for cherries may perform a favor for other fruits as the agreement could help provide access for apple and other fruit growers to reach the Australian market.
Cherries have certainly come a long way from their origins in the lush area between the Black and Caspian Seas, when they were carried to Europe by birds, brought to America by English colonists in 1629, traveled to California with Spanish missionaries and are now heading to Australia from the Central Valley.
Craig Anderson has been with the Central Valley Business Journal since Vol. 1, No. 1. He was born and raised in the Central Valley - Tracy, Stockton, Linden - and attended San Jose State. He owned and managed the Tracy Camera Shop in Tracy with his father; worked as a business consultant; in international sales with Dole Pineapple; writer for 25 years on business, agriculture, sports; book and fiction published in national venues; has coached at Linden High School for 19 years.