U.S.: NW cherry season lifted by high quality and quick start

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U.S.: NW cherry season lifted by high quality and quick start

Northwest Cherry Growers says that "incredible quality" and a quick start to the campaign helped the industry during the 2018 season, which saw some challenges on the export side due to several rounds of international tariffs.

The industry shipped 25.3 million 20-pound equivalent boxes of fruit this year, only slightly lower than last year's record of 26.4 million boxes.

In a season review, the grower association said that low California supplies had put "enormous pressure" on the Northwest crop at the beginning of the campaign.

The year-on-year deficit of fresh cherries on the market stoked worldwide demand, it said, quickly exceeding the region's daily supply and leading to "market confusion and challenges for many retailers and distributors."

"Thankfully, harvest officially began with shipments on the 1st of June," said NW Cherry Growers.

"The crop picked up speed quickly, reaching an average shipping rate of 357,000 boxes per day for the month. Thanks in part to another week of shipping due to the earlier start, the 2018 season saw 3 million more boxes in June than 2017's record crop."

Demand remained high going into July, the association said, with ample fruit available in the important run-up to the Fourth of July holidays.

The U.S. market absorbed 17 million boxes of fruit this season. Retailers advertised Northwest cherries more than any other fruit for four weeks straight, keeping them in the top three advertised fruits nationwide for a seven-week stretch.

With exports to China affected by the two rounds of additional tariffs on U.S. cherries, Canada regained its position as the Northwest's largest export market, even exceeding last year's volume on a smaller crop.

Increased tariffs for the Chinese market

The association explained that overall, demand for Northwest cherries remained strong throughout the season despite the Chinese market challenges.

"Incredible fruit quality along with outstanding demand in the U.S. and other export markets carried the season in 2018," it said.

"However, losing a significant portion of our traditional market in China, 3.2 million boxes in 2017 vs. only 1.6 million boxes in 2018, was a blow to the Northwest cherry industry that resulted in lost sales and downward price pressure across all markets."

Before the 15% tariff handed down by the Chinese Government in April, U.S. cherries were already charged a 10% import duty plus 13% value-added tax, bringing the total to 38%.

"In correlation, the tariff also forced Chinese importers to demand lower sales prices on Northwest cherries," NW Cherry Growers said.

By July 1, Northwest cherry shipments to China were at just over one million boxes - one-third of last year's total. Then trade war escalated on July 6 when China levied another 25% tariff, through with a cap at 50%.

"None-the-less, a 50% tariff plus the existing 13% value-added tax slowed the market," it said.

"They were soon joined by a final measure which required Chinese importers to make large deposits to their governments on all imported U.S. cherries. 

"By then, most importers chose to avoid the risk of importing our perishable crop and shipments ground to a standstill."

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