China is expected to see greater cherry imports in 2019-20 as well as as a sharp increase in domestic production, according to a USDA GAIN Report.
It also predicts the U.S. will remain the country's largest cherry supplier during the summer, though its share will likely decline after, given the retaliatory tariffs.
As for domestic supply, the Chinese industry is expected to see a 23% rise year-on-year to 420,000 metric tons (MT) this coming season. This rise is due to an increased number of bearing trees in producing regions.
Along with the increased number of trees, weather patterns in most production areas have been favorable, contributing to the rise, notes the department.
These growing conditions are a welcome change for growers from last season when a severe frost hit northern China during the cherry blossoming season, causing that year’s production to decline dramatically.
Improved fruit quality, expanded hectarage
The overall cherry quality is acceptable this year, with the USDA pointing out that China’s cherry quality is improving thanks to enhanced crop management.
Still, however, it says there is much room for improvement compared to imported cherries. For example, pre-cooling and post-harvest treatment is generally non-existent and grading is normally done by hand.
Meanwhile, China’s cherry acreage is estimated at 150,000 hectares in 201920, up 7% year-on-year. This is part of the greater trend of cherry planted area expanding quickly in recent years given favorable market returns.
In addition to traditional production regions such as Yantai (Shandong) and Dalian (Liaoning), Tongchuan (Shaanxi) and Tianshui (Gansu) have become major cherry producers in western China.
As a result of this spreading cherry production area - including greenhouse production - the cherry supply season has extended, these days beginning in early March and ending in late July.
Dozens of cherry varieties are planted in China, but the most commercially cultivated varieties are European, such as Brooks, Bing, Rainier, Van, and Lapin, the USDA comments.
Recently, Chinese farmers have been in the process of replacing some existing cherry varieties with varieties that better match current Chinese consumer demand.
Cherry consumption, fruit prices on the rise
The current high fruit prices have also pushed up cherry prices this year, says the USDA.
These price jumps have occurred despite increased production and smaller fruit size.
For example, in Shandong’s Yantai region, the farm gate price for Meizao (Bing) cherries was 40-50 RMB (US$5.8 - US$7.2) per kilo, an increase of 20% from the previous year. Similarly, early March saw prices for greenhouse cherries in Yantai up 140-160 RMB (US$20.30 - US$23.20) per kilo.
With increased production and an extended supply season, Chinese cherry consumption also continues to increase.
Due to the fast-growing demand for cherries, online e-commerce retailers are working with suppliers to combine enhanced marketing with improved logistics.
Thus far, this combination has resulted in faster growth in third and fourth-tier cities. This fast-growing demand represents strong potential for imported cherries, according to industry sources.