Most of the province’s cherries are grown in the Okanagan, but this isn’t where the orchardists make most of their money.
Niell Dendy, a cherry grower based in Kelowna, says he ships about 70 per cent of his fruits to international markets.
“We export our cherries mainly to mainland China, Hong Kong, other southeast Asian countries, Europe and even the Middle East,” he says.
Dendy explains cherries and other tree fruits are common in the valley, so it’s hard to get a good price. But for global consumers, cherries are a precious growing commodity, so much so that international sales hit record highs.
The B.C. government says in 2015, cherry exports recorded nearly $92 million in sales worldwide, an increase of 70 per cent compared to 2014.
The volume of cherries also climbed by 56 per cent to 13,600 metric tonnes.
Erin Carlson, a coordinator for B.C. Cherry Association, credits the record numbers to advancements that are allowing fruits to last longer in their trek to foreign markets.
“The growers in the association have high quality standards and they like to put a good cherry in the box. A lot of that work has been done by the folks at the research station to teach us how to do it properly with the cooling, handling and packaging,” says Carlson. “Therefore it can travel longer and travel to farther places and stay really delicious.”
China has a palate for cherries, making up more than a quarter of the international sales.
“We’ve got security in our export deal with China for the long term and that means a lot because China is such an important market,” says Dendy.
The provincial government hopes to break into more markets.
“We are going to build on this momentum. Thanks to the close working relationship with our provincial cherry industry, we look forward to exploring new opportunities with Pacific Rim countries that recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” says Norm Letnick, Minister of Agriculture.
However, Carlson doesn’t see this happening in the near future.
“In the long run, T.P.P. might be good for the cherry growers, but in reality, it is going to take some time because we would need to get the protocol, which for China took six to eight years to really get that market open to us even though we had a trade agreement.”
In the meantime, the government is focused on blossoming the cherry industry to foreign markets.
“British Columbians have always known about this tasty, sweet fruit from the Okanagan. The secret is out. Together we want to share B.C. cherries with the world,” says Letnick.