Opportunity Awaits? Blueberry Exports to China Could Be Game Changer

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File photo shows blueberries on sale.

While the pending International Trade Commission decision regarding the case of serious injury that imports have had against blueberry growers will be pivotal for producers in Florida and Georgia, another marketing opportunity may lie with producers capitalizing on exports to China.

Greg Fonsah, University of Georgia Agribusiness Extension economist, said during Friday’s Ag Forecast meeting there is a real opportunity for blueberry growers to capitalize on an exports market, especially as Chinese consumption of blueberries has increased dramatically; from 28 million pounds in 2012 to 360 million pounds in 2018.

Historic Agreement

Because of the U.S.-China Economic Trade Agreement, the U.S. was granted access to export blueberries to China, as of May 2020.

“It is about time for the U.S. to also penetrate that market and get a share of the market especially in that May 2020 we had this agreement with the Chinese government,” Fonsah said. “It is going to be an opportunity for the U.S. blueberry industry to start looking at the Chinese market and try to capture a huge market share, just like Chile, Peru, Argentina and Mexico.”

Flooded Market

The region’s blueberry growers need every market source they can get at this point. Increased domestic production of blueberries combined with increased imports have flooded the U.S. market. Unfortunately, when markets flood, prices plunge. This is a focal point of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance case to the International Trade Commission that a serious injury has occurred.

“The market has totally changed in 10 years, totally changed,” Fonsah said. “We have also doubled the production. The domestic production plus imports coming from Mexico, guess what, we have flooded the market.”

Imports from Latin America remains the primary challenge to Southeastern blueberry producers’ production. From 2010 to 2019, Peru’s export production to the United States exploded from almost nothing to 140 million pounds. Mexico’s production soared to almost 80 million pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

Exports from Mexico soared to around 23 million pounds in April 2020 compared to 16 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2018.

The domestic FOB (freight on board) price in October 2010 neared $35 per flat. In September 2019, the price plunged to $15 per flat, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

“The huge production from Mexico and the huge production domestically has helped flood the U.S. market and helped depress the prices,” Fonsah reiterated.

U.S. fresh-market production of blueberries increased from about 250 million pounds in 2010 to about 370 million pounds in 2019, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.