State-to-state transport of fruits and vegetables is a major business across the country. However, that can be challenged if rules in one state cause blockages in transport. That was the case with California import laws, which were limiting market potential for Northwest cherry growers. But that's all changed.
For 2020, an update to California import rules will prevent millions of dollars of losses for the industry. The new rules remove penalties for cherry processors in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Utah, who could have lost market access to or through California for an entire season — for all clients — when fruit from just a few individual growers tested positive for fruit fly larvae. It meant a small problem would balloon into a transport blockage.
Under the new rule, fruit at a processing facility will be identified and segmented by individual orchard blocks. If cherry fruit fly is discovered in any sample, the orchard block will be suspended from shipping, but the processor may continue to ship fruit from other growers.
It adds complexity to processing, but keeps a market open.
The change came after months of collaboration and negotiation between the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Washington State Department of Agriculture and industry representatives. The groups came together to modify the rules to reflect the increasingly consolidated nature of the cherry industry, while still preventing the spread of a pest of concern.
Protecting market access is a key issue for WSDA according to Derek Sandison, director. That market access is key at a time when the cherry industry is experiencing uncertainty in export markets, including China.
Looking for opportunities
Sandison notes “Through no fault of their own, our growers have faced increased barriers to foreign markets and suffered financial losses as a result.”
He explains that growers have been forced to find new and expanded opportunities for a highly perishable product. “We are pleased that WSDA has been able to help by working with our partners in California and ease restrictions faced by our cherry producers.”
In Washington, cherries are the eighth-largest crop, with annual production estimated at $480 million.
Jon DeVaney, president, Washington State Tree Fruit Association, says, “Cherry growers will benefit greatly from the updated permit, which will focus on evaluating conditions in individual orchards to prevent the spread of pests. Growers will no longer lose access to customers in California simply because their packer discovered a problem in another grower’s fruit.”
Adds Fred Scarlett, Northwest Horticulture Council, “These changes are straightforward in addressing current industry operations and preserving quarantine integrity, and will recognize fairness or opportunity for late-season growers to ship cherries to the California market.”