California agricultural trade organizations received $33.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access and Foreign Market Development Cooperator programs this year.


About one-third of the funds went to organizations representing fresh produce grower-shippers, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.


“Japan, China, South Korea: those are markets that have really been success stories with the use of MAP funds,” said Jim Culbertson, manager of the California Cherry Advisory Board, Lodi. 


The board’s annual proposal to the USDA is done jointly with Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash., an organization representing grower-shippers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah, he said. This year, the California board’s share of the funds is more than $700,000.


A goal of the federal programs is to penetrate new markets. While the cherry growers have had success in Asia and Australia, pricing is a hurdle in some countries, Culbertson said, because nearly all California cherries — unlike most other fruits — are shipped abroad by air freight rather than by ship.


Recipients of the MAP funds are required to match the federal dollars.


“The amount of money the program provides is balanced against the quality of an organization’s marketing plan and its results in the markets,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission. “We are quite proud of the fact the quality of the work and the results in the marketplace enable us to leverage the money we contribute.”


The table grape commission has been making the MAP funds work for grower-shippers for more than 20 years, Nave said, and California table grapes are now sold in 26 countries around the world.


“Our exports to those markets represent something in the neighborhood of one-third of our annual crop,” Nave said.

Funds to the commission this year approached $2.4 million.


Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, received more than $2.1 million.


“Because we’re a cooperative, those funds are particularly helpful in our export markets, because we don’t have as much money as some large organizations do,” said Claire Smith, director of corporate communications. “The money helps us to expand in markets where we are already established, but also is helpful in developing new markets.”


The California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, has been working on export market development programs with the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service for more than 20 years, said Gordon Smith, vice president of marketing.


“These funds are integral to educating the trade about how to handle and market our fruit and exposing consumers around the world to the wonderful health benefits of California stone fruit,” he said.


The tree fruit agreement received nearly $2.4 million.


Because the federal government’s fiscal year does not necessarily match the funding cycle, staying on top of the programs can be a challenge.


“We had to submit our proposed plan for 2010 last spring,” Nave said. “We’re always working about 18 months in advance.”


California is the nation’s largest agricultural producer and exporter with $10.9 billion in exports, according to the Food and Agriculture Department. On average, California growers export an estimated 28% of the products they produce.