(Jan. 10) This summer California plum producers in five counties will be able to sell their fruit to China after a 10-year-long fight to pierce the Bamboo Curtain.

Blair Richardson, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, said he hopes the state’s growers will be able to export 500,000 cartons of plums to China this year.

China is expected to surpass Canada within five years as the largest plum export market for California, he said.

California produced more than 12 million boxes of fresh plums in 2005 and exported $456 million worth of farm products to China in 2004.

China imported $332,000 worth of fresh plums from the U.S. in 2004 and $700,000 in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Statistics.

Chinese officials and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service signed an agreement Dec. 16 to allow growers of plums in the California counties of Fresno, Tulare, Kern, Kings and Madera to ship their product to China starting this season.

Officials at the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League, federal and state representatives, APHIS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have worked to gain market access since 1994, Richardson said.

The agreement plans to hit the 500,000-carton export mark this summer on the strength of promotional campaigns.

“With the marketing and promotional programs we have planned, we should be able to reach that goal,” he said.

Most of the promotions will involve education for consumers, retailers and wholesalers.

“When you open a new market, (people) aren’t sure how to market it and promote it, and we’re going to work with them in those areas,” he said.

The California plum presents an advantage because of its long production season compared to other plum producing regions of the world with shorter windows of opportunity, Richardson said.

“Over the years, the industry has maintained strong quality standards that growers meet to provide a consistent eating experience,” he said. “That should be appreciated in the growing middle- and upper-income levels in China, and we look forward to establishing California in that category.”