When Russia ordered a one-year ban on a wide array of U.S. agricultural imports in August, it closed the door to a growing export market for California pomegranates, but the state’s grower-shippers didn’t seem too worried about the politically motivated move.
“Russia uses a lot of pomegranates, and we’ve sold containers there over the years,” said David Anthony, salesman for Ruby Fresh, Firebaugh, Calif. “But we’re prepared to move a lot more fruit domestically and to Canada. Demand is increasing, and we’re expecting to have less fruit to export than we did a year ago.”
Jeff Simonian, sales manager for Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co., visited Russia in May with a state industry delegation.
“This year we’re out,” said Simonian, who said the state exported about 150,000 boxes of pomegranates to Russia last year. “We won’t be able to ship there, but the crop might be shorter. It’s not a big deal for this year.”
But if unrest in the Ukraine — and resulting tensions between Russia and the U.S. continue — it would be a setback for the industry in the long term. Simonian said the state’s pomegranate growers had identified Russia and Brazil as two export marks with excellent growth potential.
“They have money, they are familiar with the fruit, and they are big countries,” he said.
California harvests about 6 million boxes of pomegranates for the fresh market each year, and roughly 40% of that total is exported, said Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council.
“It’s an item prized worldwide because of size and color that we are able to achieve in California,” Tjerandsen said. “For example, in China pomegranates are golf ball to tennis ball size, and they don’t get that intense, deep red color that we do in California.”
Canada, South Korea and Taiwan are among the state’s largest export markets, Tjerandsen said. Simonian said South Korea is the largest market by far, taking roughly 70% of the state’s export total.
“It’s a huge number for a relatively small country,” Simonian said.