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Ups and downs with first fresh exports to China

Success of seaborne start tempered by lower than anticipated blueberry volume fromgrowers and increasing foreign competition. By Grant Ullyot


fter years of negotiations, the first seaborne shipments of fresh B.C. blueberries were finally sent to China this year.

“While we did not ship as many berries as we had hoped

to, we did send our first shipment by sea in atmospheric controlled temperature containers, and that was a major accomplishment,” says Debbie Etsell, executive director of the B.C. Blueberry Council. The fresh berries destined for China were harvested

during the peak spring and summer weather, which means the high-producing Duke variety was first off the vine. Duke is a high-quality, generally large, fresh tasting berry. B.C.’s processors and packers use the latest technology to

ensure it is a safe food — something that China demands. The best way to do that is to ship by air, so the majority of the berries exported to China went by air even though doing so is more expensive than shipping by sea. Etsell says reports indicate that the berries shipped by

boat arrived in China in good condition. However, there were some disappointments “The volume wasn’t near what we had hoped it would be,

and that is something we will continue to work on. One of the things we were hoping was to have our berries arrive in China in time for the Moon Festival. “This is a high-demand time in China for fruits to be given

away as gifts, and especially fruit from a foreign country which is considered a special gift. We thought this time period was one that we were well set up for, but our season was early. “Another problem we faced was that Chile has figured out

how to grow berries earlier so they were shipping into the Chinese market at the same time we were. It was a challenge we had not planned for and did not expect.” Etsell explained that shipping berries to China is an

individual business decision for growers and suppliers — it is not the blueberry council’s decision. “We have a lot of production in B.C., and we have a lot of

good-quality berries that we need to export. It is going to cost money, and growers are going to ask ‘why do I have to do that?’ (ship to China).”

4 British Columbia Berry Grower • Winter 2016-17 GRANT ULLYOT

Debbie Etsell, executive director of the B.C. Blueberry Council, which believes the industry is going to have to find more new markets for its fresh berries if production continues to increase or else more berries will have to be frozen and put in storage.

She says they will have to consider whether there is

enough market here for them to move all their berries and knows it will be a tough decision for some. The Chinese tariff on imports of B.C. blueberries is over

30 per cent, making it a major issue and one the council is working on, trying to get the tariffs reduced or eliminated. Federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay is going to China and Etsell will be joining him along with other people from the blueberry industry to talk about the tariffs. The blueberry council says it is going to continue working

to develop new markets, not just in China. Having travelled to many parts of the world, Etsell says a

country’s population demand and its desire for a safe and healthy fruit product hold the most promise for a potential new market. “I would say the Asian countries would top the list.

However, we need to be diversified because we have seen currencies rise and fall, governments rise and fall, and we have to be prepared to spread our businesses opportunities across a wide area. It really is a global network. That is what we are involved in.” The bottom line is that B.C. is going to have to find more

new markets for its fresh berries if production continues to increase or else more berries will have to be frozen and put in storage. “That’s the challenge for the future,” says Etsell. The annual guessing game is under way as segments in

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