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The 2009 cherry export season in Japan did not live up to the Northwest industrys expectations because of a delay in implementing a systems approach program as an alternative to fumigating the cherries. The Japanese government had agreed to allow U.S. cherry imports under a systems approach, starting on June 12. Northwest shippers were eager to ship cherries without fumigating them with methyl bromide, as theyve had to do since the market opened more than 30 years ago. They were confident it would result in better quality cherries on the market.

Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, said that 850 growers with a total of 25,000 acres of cherries enrolled in the Japan export program intending to use the systems approach.

The systems approach involves codling moth trapping in the orchard but requires no special treatment of the cherries. It incorporates standard industry practices, such as fruit sampling, which is already done for detection of cherry fruit fly. Thats the beauty of it, Archer said. Its not burdensome.

But in the middle of the night of June 11 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries notified its inspector, who was already in Washington, that the program would be put on hold. At least one exporter had cherries ready to ship to a customer on the opening day but was unable to fulfill the order.

Politics

Archer said it was apparent from Japanese news articles that the delay was caused by internal politics in Japan and was a successful effort by the MAFF to delay entry of U.S. cherries to protect Japans own cherry growers. Harvesting of Japans most popular variety, Satonishiki, which is similar to Rainier, began in mid-June, according to the U.S. Department of Agricultures Foreign Agricultural Service.

New Zealand and Australia (Tasmania) have been exporting to Japan under a systems approach protocol, but they ship in Japans off season and in relatively small volumes.

Archer said many top officials at the state and federal level worked on behalf of the U.S. cherry industry to help resolve the issue. Japan finally allowed the program to begin on July 2.

There was a three-week delay, and so for many of the growers and packers, the heart of their season was more or less over, Archer said. I know there were firm sales that had to be cancelled on short notice, so it was very disruptive to the market. It was unsettling. It was hard to recover from that.

Some packers enrolled in the Japan program specifically to use the systems approach and put in the extra effort to meet the requirements. Those that did not have fumigation facilities were shut out of the market, Archer said. They were not permitted to ship, so it was a total lost cause for them.

By the seasons end, just over 300,000 20-pound-equivalent boxes were exported to Japan, of which only 32,164 went through the systems approach program. Last year, when the Northwest had an exceptionally short crop, only 155,000 boxes were shipped to Japan, but this years shipments were down from the 359,000 boxes exported there in 2007.

Insects

Although no codling moths got through the system this year, a few nonquarantine insects, such as grape mealybug, were found in the cherries in Japan. Shipments containing insects must be fumigated on arrival. Archer said it might be in the industrys interest to find a way to prevent this happening again, rather than have more inspections or regulations imposed.

Archer does not expect the same kind of problems and delays with the program in the future, and said he would not discourage shippers from enrolling for 2010. I think this is going to be a solid program, and the comments I received from both the handlers and the inspection service are that it worked fine. From that standpoint, you have to be pleased with it.

Fumigation with methyl bromide is still required for cherries exported to Australia and Korea. Archer said he had received some inquiries from the Australian trade who would like to be able to import under a systems approach to avoid fumigation. The United States started out exporting to Australia under a systems approach, but the program was ended because of some difficulties in California, Archer said. It may be worth renewing that effort, he said.