Free-trade agreement could mean new berry market

Free-trade agreement could mean new berry market

0910_ATS07

A free-trade agreement with South Korea could help Oregon’s blueberry market bounce back from the depths of 2009.

The total volume of blueberries produced in Oregon has increased almost every year since 2003, but the value of the crop has not. In 2007, 44.7 million pounds of blueberries were harvested in Oregon, and the industry was valued at almost $65 million. The production volume in 2009 was 47.2 million pounds, but the value of the blueberries was only $37 million.

The foreign market is extremely important to blueberry growers. Almost 21 million pounds of the blueberries produced in 2009 went to the fresh market. “We need that export market. We just don’t have the population to consume all that we produce,” says Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The Republic of Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is pending Congressional approval; it would eliminate tariffs on several agricultural products. Agricultural exports from Oregon, Washington and California to South Korea totaled more than $5.5 billion in 2009, but fresh blueberries were not among the exports.

This year’s cold winter and heavy rains during the blooming period were hard on Oregon blueberry producers. The total volume produced was less than projected, but could still be more than 50 million pounds, says Bryan Ostlund of the Oregon Blueberry Commission.

Blueberries are marketed as a superfood around the world, but their consumption in Eastern Asia is particularly high. Oregon blueberry producers are excited about the South Korea opportunity. If the market does not expand with the growing production volumes, Oregon blueberry producers will have more to worry about than cold weather.

CORY MIMMS