Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 AM
Mitch Lies/Capital Press
Eric Pond, chairman of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, looks at a sign announcing a new store opening Sept. 14 in Seoul, South Korea, while holding a container of frozen blueberries he purchased from a nearby supermarket. Pond said gaining access to the South Korean fresh blueberry market could provide good sales opportunities for Oregon producers.
'We plan to just gently make our way into that market'
By MITCH LIES
Oregon's fast-growing blueberry industry is taking it slow and steady when it comes to the South Korean fresh blueberry market.
The market, which opened last fall to fresh blueberries from Oregon, has a huge upside, said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission.
"The packers seemed to be saying, 'Let's take this slow and not ship millions of pounds this first year,'" he said.
"We're excited about it and looking forward to the opportunities there," said Trevor Abell, of Oregon Berry Packing in Hillsboro, Ore. "But we plan to just gently make our way into that market."
Abell and Ostlund were part of a Western United States Agricultural Trade Association mission that was in Korea April 19-25.
The delegation, which included state agriculture directors from 11 Western states, also traveled to Singapore.
Korea has been a consistent export market for frozen blueberries, annually consuming between 3 million and 5 million pounds, Ostlund said.
This summer marks the first opportunity to ship fresh blueberries to Korea.
The market opened last fall after South Korean and Oregon agriculture officials agreed to certain protocols, including that packers and growers will meet certain production standards.
The agreement doesn't extend to other states.
To date, nine packers are participating in the program, Ostlund said.
Under the agreement, which was several years in the making, Oregon Department of Agriculture inspectors will survey farms and packing sheds to ensure they meet the production and handling standards.
Production protocols include stipulations that growers trap for certain pests. Packers are required to pack the fruit in screened areas, and seal the fruit in containers after a state inspector certifies it is clean.
"It just has got to be flat out, clean fruit," Ostlund said.
A South Korean official is scheduled to inspect Oregon's program in late spring or summer to give final approval.
Oregon blueberry production has increased dramatically in recent years, growing from 43 million pounds in 2008 to 65 million in 2011, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Acreage has increased from 5,200 in 2008 to 7,800 in 2011.
Ostlund said the trade mission assured him that Korea will work with Oregon to facilitate movement of Oregon blueberries.
"It relieved concerns on our part," Ostlund said. "The Koreans will do their part. They have the ability and the infrastructure to see that things run smoothly."
With Asiana Cargo providing nonstop air service between Portland and Incheon, South Korea, Ostlund said Oregon packers should be able to get fresh product into Korean stores quickly.
Abell said Oregon Berry Packing is negotiating with Korean retailers to sell its berries in Korean retail outlets and expects to have agreements in place by this summer.