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Northwest produce trade weighs in on devastation in Japan

by Lora Abcarian | March 15, 2011

Aftershocks, both physical and psychological, continue to be felt around the world following Japan’s devastating earthquake March 11. The quake was classified as a magnitude 9.0, making it the most powerful in the nation’s history.

Dave Martin, export sales manager for Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, WA, was in Kobe, Japan, on March 14, traveling to Tokyo later that day. He provided The Produce News with poignant comments about the situation, and put a human face and perspective upon the tragedy.

“Currently, we have nothing shipping to Japan, but we are preparing for our cherry season, which starts by May 1,” he said. “The potential effect on our business is not known at the moment. But I would definitely expect some effect and possible decrease in business in the early part of our season.

“It’s a bit hard to consider our cherry business to be very important in the midst of such a devastating event,” he continued. “The situation here is so incredibly grim in the northeastern prefectures that it’s honestly a bit difficult to comprehend. There are entire cities which are now virtually wiped from the map. Some were quite literally washed out to sea.”

He said that roads were blocked or completely destroyed. Grocery stores were heavily damaged, and restocking will not be an easy task, he said.

“Those who have survived may spend months in emergency shelters,” he added. “The people across Japan will mourn together for quite some time, and the rest of us can only offer support as best possible and mourn along with them.”

Tony Buak, director of export sales for Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, WA, said that the only commodity CMI ships to Japan is cherries. “It is a very small market for us,” he noted.

Loren Queen, marketing and communications director for Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima, WA, said that the company’s volume of cherries exported to Japan is under 5 percent of the overall program.

Mr. Queen and Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee, both said it is too early to determine what impact the disaster will have on cherry sales.

Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, WA, said that the company’s export business has not been affected by the earthquake.

Looking at other commodities, Karin Gardner, marketing communications manager for The Oppenheimer Group in Vancouver, BC, told The Produce News, “We have heard from our Japanese mandarin and pear grower representatives [on March 14],” she stated. “Everyone is OK and little damage was experienced, though everyone is heartbroken by what has occurred.”

Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, said that Japan is the state’s largest export market for fries and dehydrated potatoes.

“It’s hard to say what actual commerce will be disrupted,” he told The Produce News March 14.

A chipping exporter whom he had contacted earlier said that southern ports in Japan were still able to receive product, but it is too early to determine how commodities will actually move through the country’s damaged infrastructure.

Jeff Correa, international marketing director for the Pear Bureau Northwest in Milwaukie, OR, said that USA Pears does not have any export programs in place with Japan due to issues with fire blight.

“Although Japan is technically open for Washington apples, we ship zero apples to Japan and have no programs in place,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.