Cherry growers could be excused for being a little disheartened. They just learned they have to go through another year for the pilot program on exporting cherries to China.
Last summer, two inspectors from China spent weeks enjoying the sunny Okanagan Valley, while creating an extremely strict regimen for inspections of BC cherry exports. As April Ingraham of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency points out, cherry growers thought they’d met all the requirements at the end of that pilot ... but apparently, China is not quite satisfied.
While this is frustrating for the growers, itching to get into that massive Chinese market, the good news outweighs the bad.
It’s expected the CFIA will be able to meet the requirements this time out - barring some catastrophic event - and the doors will open to an export market of more than 1 billion people.
If the deal goes through, as expected, by next year BC cherry exports could be bringing in $10 million into the Okanagan Valley, or about 25 per cent of total sales. In five years exports are predicted to hit $20 million; basically half of all revenue from cherry production. As well, cherries sell for higher prices in China, so there is a much better profit margin on the crop. Last year, a five kilogram box was fetching more than $100, or $20 a kilo.
So, you can see why cherry growers are eager to finish this arduous process, but what is even more important is the overall impact on BC agriculture. In fact, it would be fair to say the growers of other crops owe the cherry growers a huge debt for their perseverance in moving the export deal forward.
It is now going on eight years that the cherry export agreement has been in the works. The cherry growers and the packing houses have worked long and hard to meet the expectation of Chinese inspectors, and they have paved the way for other growers to more easily meet the requirements.
It’s now expected the blueberry growers will be next to gain an export license, and if that happens, we think it’s only fair they buy their cherry growing compatriots a cold cherry cider!
Agrifood exports to China have been growing, but not that quickly, and Canada actually fell behind some other countries like Chile and the US, both of which were very quick to address issues about pests coming over the border in fruit shipments.
What the cherry growers have done is laudable; a long, patient campaign to overcome every hurdle and break down every obstacle between Canadian farmers and the largest single export market in the world.
What’s important now is not to focus on the remaining obstacles but the goal on the other side. When you look at other industries like logging, and see how they have profited by opening the Chinese market, it’s easy to see the potential for Canadian agriculture.
Consider that just a decade ago, lumber shipments to China from BC totaled just $58 million. After 10 years of working with the Chinese and Canadian governments, lumber shipments today were more than $1.3 billion.
Similarly, the unspoken promise from this program is the future impact on BC agriculture as a whole. BC producers face stiff competition in domestic and US markets, which often leaves some sectors nailed hard by low prices. In some cases, for example with apple growers a few years ago, the prices were so low it was cheaper to leave the fruit on the tree.
Cherry growers have proven to be the thin edge of a wedge that is cracking open a major export market that commands higher prices for BC products. Thanks to this hard work, the entire BC agricultural community may become much more viable and sustainable in the years to come. ■
Gary Symons is the editor of Orchard & Vine. Send your thoughts or comments to email@example.com.