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Although the percentage of the California stone fruit crop shipped overseas last year was down from historic averages, as was the crop itself, export markets remain an important destination for California stone fruit in general, and in particular for white-flesh peaches and nectarines.

"Export markets continue to be critical for California peach, plum and nectarine growers, as the industry historically [exports] around 25 percent of the crop," according to Gordon Smith, director of marketing for the California Tree Fruit Agreement in Reedley, CA. "That percentage declined to 19 percent in 2009, which was the lowest percentage exported in the past 10 years." Several factors, among them the global financial crisis, contributed to that decline "as production fell from a near record 58 million packages in 2008 to 47 million last year."

When The Produce News contacted Mr. Smith on May 10, he was in the Middle East on one leg of an international marketing trip. In a written statement dated May 11, in response to e-mailed questions, he noted, "As a percentage of production, California Summerwhite [white-flesh] peaches and nectarines are exported at a higher rate than yellow-flesh, particularly to Taiwan. However, Taiwan is not the incredible growth market it once was 10 to 15 years ago, and our industry has adjusted production accordingly, in particular during the middle of the season for Summerwhite nectarines, with higher than average orchard pullouts following the 2008 season."

As the Taiwan market has matured and "Canada has remained steady for summerwhites, Mexico has emerged as a growth market over the past few seasons," he said. "Already a major export market" for California plums and for yellow flesh peaches and nectarines, Mexico is also showing more interest in the white flesh varieties of peaches and nectarines. CTFA "continues to work with the trade and consumers in Mexico to increase awareness for Summerwhites, and the excellent results in 2009 showed we are gaining traction."

The California tree fruit industry is "very excited to initiate [new] marketing programs in Brazil and Dubai for the 1010 season," Mr. Smith said in the statement. "After overcoming some phytosanitary barriers in Brazil from earlier this decade, California peaches, plums and nectarines are once again on the minds of Brazilian importers."

Dubai was "the only market besides China to exhibit positive growth in [peach, plum and nectarine] exports in 2009 compared to the prior year," he said. "Despite the global economic crisis crushing the real estate boom in Dubai, the importers here continue to exhibit their historical trading acumen to not only service the Dubai market but the demand of the entire Middle East region."

The industry "continues to await eagerly for Australia to open up for California peaches, plums and nectarines … so Australians can enjoy the sweet taste of California stone fruit during their winter" as an import risk assessment process is presently in its final stages, Mr. Smith said. When that happens, "CTFA is positioned to support both the trade and retailers with promotions and training."

Percentage-wise, Crown Jewels Marketing LLC in Fresno, CA, exports "a lot more" white-flesh than yellow-flesh peaches and nectarines, according to Atomic Torosian, a managing partner with the company. In particular, there are "good markets" for exports of "the larger-size peaches and the mid- to smaller-size white-flesh nectarines," he said.

Family Tree Farms Marketing LLC in Reedley, CA, finds that its exports of white-flesh fruit have been "pretty consistent," according to Don Goforth, marketing director. The company exports around 35 percent of its white- flesh peaches and 15 percent of its white-flesh nectarines to Asia, and "we are seeing some nice growth in other markets," he said. "Taiwan still rules the roost," but "Mexico is coming around."

Export markets are "very important for the white-flesh program" at Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford, CA, said Maurice (Mo) Cameron, managing partner. "We certainly have plenty of fruit for the domestic market … but the export markets are very important. We go into some non-traditional white- flesh markets, so it is not just going to Taiwan or Hong Kong."

(For more on Summerwhite fruit, see the May 24, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)