(Nov. 19, 9:20 a.m.) South Korea approved the importing of U.S. pomegranates just as the season began in late September in California.

“They would easily have taken twice the amount we shipped,” said David Miller, export salesman for Ito Packing Co. Inc., Reedley, Calif. “It was a wild and woolly adventure.”

A dry spring cut bloom time and unusually strong winds in June and October caused scarring. The result was up to a 50% drop in volume of No. 1 pomegranates, Miller said. Due to the limited supplies, Ito Packing shipped until the company was out of fruit, about 20 containers, he said.

South Koreans were eager to import California pomegranates. After exchanging a few e-mails, one South Korean broker showed up unannounced at Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, Calif., said salesman Jeff Simonian.

“He stayed for three days touring our orchards, packinghouse and storage facilities,” Simonian said.

Simonian Fruit shipped about 15 containers to South Korea this year, he said, which is about 5% of the company’s volume.

“I’d say it was fairly successful for first year and getting a late approval,” Simonian said. “I think we can get started earlier next year, so we should move a lot more volume.”

Complicating matters during the season was the strengthening of the U.S. dollar and the simultaneous dropping of the South Korean currency, Miller said.

“The brokers were originally looking for No. 1s, but they accepted lesser grades due to the price difference,” Miller said.

The strong demand for U.S. pomegranates was due in part to a spring freeze in Iran, which in the past has been a primary source for South Korea, Miller said. Shipping from the U.S. cut time-at-sea nearly in half, he said.

South Korean demands stringent packing requirements and quarantine measures, Miller said. Sampling is required to protect again the fungal disease, black heart rot, and shipments must be inspected for insects, he said. Upon arrival in South Korea, the shipments will be fumigated.

For the first year, Ito Packing was pleased with the new market.

“It certainly exceeded our expectations,” Miller said.