Up to 20 acres of cherries were seen being grown under greenhouse covers during a trip to learn about China’s cherry production taken by the Northwest Cherry Growers. The greenhouse entry doors were often locked and guarded by mean-looking dogs.
A country the size of China could overwhelm U.S. cherry producers if it gets serious about its own sweet cherry production. American apple growers watched prices for juice and processing apples collapse in the mid-1990s when Chinese apple juice concentrate flooded U.S. markets.
To date, little is known about China’s sweet cherry industry—its size, varieties grown, production areas, pre- and postharvest practices, or domestic consumption. To learn more about China’s sweet cherry production and trade, the Northwest Cherry Growers and the California Cherry Advisory Board commissioned the international consulting company Bryant Christie, Inc., to provide a detailed look. Researchers for Byrant Christie interviewed more than 60 Chinese cherry producers, exporters, retailers, and others familiar with China’s sweet cherry industry in gathering data.
According to the Bryant Christie report, China remains a good market for U.S. cherries. The report concludes that the market should continue to be good as long as U.S. cherries maintain a lead in quality and perceived value.
Highlights about China’s sweet cherry industry from Bryant Christie’s report include the following:
Largest in the world. Nearly 250,000 acres of cherries are planted, with plans for expansion. True production volume is difficult to ascertain, but the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Beijing estimates current production at 195,000 metric tons or about 21.5 million 20-pound box equivalents. Areas of major production are in the Liaoning Province east of Beijing and the Shandong Province south of Beijing. Major varieties grown are Red Lantern, Naweng, and Big Purple, though more weather- and disease-resistant varieties are being developed and explored.
Limited use of pre- and postharvest technologies. Horticultural knowledge there is improving, but few advanced technologies are used. Dwarfing rootstocks are being tested. Rain and frost are obstacles, with some local governments providing subsidies to help growers build steel-frame rain shields to prevent fruit splitting. The Fushun district in Dalian offers a one-time subsidy of $22,000 to each grower. Few processing, packing, and cold storage facilities have been built; sorting and packing is done by hand. Most cherries are packed in 11- or 22-pound foam boxes.
Primitive storage/cold chain infrastructure. Fruit quality is challenged by limited cold storage technology and lack of viable distribution channels. Trucks are not refrigerated. Cold-wind technology is the only type of cooling system used in cold storage facilities.
Most fruit sold domestically. Lack of cold chain infrastructure has limited China’s ability to export cherries. Domestic cherries are sold mostly in northern and central metropolitan regions like Beijing, and Shanghai, with less going to the Guangzhou region. Poor fruit quality prevents China from being a major competitor to U.S. cherries in other Asian countries.
Strong market for U.S. cherries in near future. “Despite the tremendous output in comparison to other countries, the Chinese sweet cherry industry has yet to realize its full developmental capability,” the report stated. “Nonetheless, progress is continually being made.… The Chinese cherry industry is not expected to become a competitive threat to U.S. cherry exports in China or the surrounding Asian markets in the next five to ten years.”