Oregon blueberry exports to S. Korea will double 2012 total

Capital Press file Oregon growers will double the amount of fresh blueberries they export to South Korea this year compared with 2012.

Oregon blueberry growers expect to export 1 million pounds of fresh berries to South Korea this year, double last year’s total and continuing what’s been a hard-won success story for the state’s farmers.

Doug Krahmer, a St. Paul-based grower who serves on the Oregon Board of Agriculture, summarized the industry’s status during a board meeting this past week in Prineville.

Oregon is the only state certified to ship fresh blueberries to Korea, an approval that took about 10 years of negotiations, Krahmer said. He credited the Oregon Department of Agriculture for sticking with the process of gaining approval of protocols for growing, storing and shipping berries. In 2012, the first year of shipments, Oregon growers sent about 500,000 pounds of blueberries to Korea.

“Oregon did open the door and it was the ODA that did all the footwork on it and negotiated with a foreign country to get it done,” Krahmer told fellow board members. “I want to express how grateful the blueberry industry is to the ODA. It’s a feather in everybody’s cap.”

Department Director Katy Coba said the complications involved in gaining Korea’s acceptance of blueberries illustrate the difference between exporting food and shipping computer chips or other Oregon products.

“Food is different than everything else because of the technical piece that goes with food,” she said. That’s why her department markets agricultural products, she said, rather than have it done by Business Oregon, the state agency that promotes most of the state’s goods.

The amount shipped to Korea is a relatively small part of Oregon’s production — farmers grew 72 million pounds of blueberries worth $107 million in 2012 — but Krahmer said exports could increase in years to come. The goodwill built up by successful trade with Korea should help, he said.

He said the Asian export market holds considerable growth potential. “We’re not shipping much of anything to Vietnam, and we’re not shipping to China,” he said.

“There will definitely be more growth,” Krahmer said in an interview following the ag board meeting. “I just don’t know what the ceiling might be.”

Krahmer hasn’t shipped any of his berries to Korea. The label he ships under, Driscoll’s, has not yet been certified for export.

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