YAKIMA, Wash. — Pacific Northwest sweet cherry growers will receive 17 cents per pound in federal relief for Chinese tariffs on their 2019 crop even though their sales to China have not been the total wipe out they once expected.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced details of $16 billion in tariff relief for U.S. farmers, July 25, including direct payments to sweet cherry growers who initially were left out of $11 billion in aid a year ago.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., worked to get cherry growers added to the 2018 and 2019 assistance and called it a big win.
B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, the industry’s promotional arm, said the relief made the difference between making money or breaking even versus losing money last year.
However, he said while at one point the industry figured it would have no sales to China this year it’s ending up at 1.3 million, 20-pound boxes versus 1.6 million last year when the tariff was implemented mid-season and 3.2 million in 2017 before the tariff started. China was then the No. 1 export market in 2017 but this year has been surpassed by Canada at close to 3 million boxes.
“We literally thought we would have zero but there has been enough demand that business has been good. It’s quietly been very positive,” Thurlby said.
Chinese importers have been willing to pay tariffs totaling 63% because “our cherries are the best in the world,” he said.
The industry lost an estimated $60 million in the China market in 2018 using a USDA model and preliminarily $106 million by a Washington State University model, he said, adding he has no estimates yet for the 2019 season.
The 17-cent-per-pound USDA Market Facilitation Program relief is limited to $125,000 per grower for 2018 and $250,000 for 2019. It is paid on packed fruit, not packing line cullage. Payments are just to growers, not packers unless a packer is a grower. In 2018, it was limited to growers who grossed $900,000 in total farm income or less. That limit was removed for 2019.
As of July 30, the industry had shipped 21.3 million boxes of cherries and will top its 22.3-million-box estimate by the time the season ends in two weeks, Thurlby said.
Harvest ends on the bottom slopes of Mt. Hood, Ore., and on Stemilt Hill above Wenatchee.
“It’s been a good year, a better than average year. We’ve had the best weather. For the first time in four years, we were not at 100-degree days for an extended period,” Thurlby said. “We’ve had the right fruit and right markets. Most growers, if they had fruit, will make a profit. Demand from start to finish has been outstanding.”