R. Chong: “Working globally we experience the success and issues in the cherry industry”

R. Chong: “Working globally we experience the success and issues in the cherry industry”

​Smartcherry talked with Ricky Chong, Director of Business Development in World Fresh Exports Inc., the company which develops businesses in the whole fruit production chain and has deep knowledge on the fruit and, specifically, cherry market. Chong gave us an interesting interview about the post pandemic market and the challenges and successes for the companies today.

World Fresh Exporters (formerly known as Sutherland) are growers, packers, exporters and marketers of fresh fruit. Managing quality control, picking, packing, export and logistics, the company works in Canada, USA, Chile, China, Spain, Australia and also Africa, exporting to more than 30 countries globally.

The company´s headquarter is in Canada, but they have operations all around the world. Chong, who has been in the produce business for almost 40 years, spends 6-8 months on the road annually overseeing the world-wide operations.

What are the main challenges faced by cherry growers in your region?

We have been experiencing the effects of Climate change the last several years, each season we must deal with different situations. Heavy rains during spring pollination affect the longevity of the fruit, forcing us to ship more volumes by air and less by sea, and reducing export volumes. Severe heat waves during the growing stage resulting in smaller MM size, firmness, stem quality and longevity.

What are the most popular cherry varieties grown in your region, and why?

As you know approximately 70% of the world’s cherry production are Canadian varieties. Although different environments create better quality varieties in some countries than others. Example is Santina is very popular in Chile, while in Canada it is very early and overlaps during Washington’s heavy cherry production. Canadian growers prefer to grow and harvest mainly late varieties, which return healthier prices to the farm. Skeena, Staccato, Sentennial and Kootenay are popular varieties, mainly due to their high brix, colour, stems and firmness (typically +340-400 firmtech). Kootenay is especially popular for its large MM size and beautiful black colour (similar to Kordia). The highest production is Lapins variety, although that is changing as new plantings tend to be Staccato, Sentennial, Kootenay, Regina & Kordia varieties. There are many new Canadian cherry varieties that are being released by the SRDC that are very promising, higher brix, longer stems, higher stem-pull, firmer, and up to +40 days shelf-life. Growers are very excited.

What role does technology play in modern cherry production, and what new technologies are being developed to improve the industry?

Most packers in Canada are utilizing Unitec Cherry Vision 3.0 today (or plan to) although there is room for more improvement in this type of technology. We have discussed developing the ability to scan the interior flesh for defects and hollowness around the pit, both which affect longevity and cause arrival issues. We also maintain maximum picking temperatures (below 28C), implementing mobile hydrocoolers in the orchards to reduce field-heat before loading (which we build ourselves in China), pre-cooling the fruit to a pulp temperature of 5-7C before packing, and mitigating shock to the fruit by adding further padding below drops which reduces pitting and stemless arrival issues. QC software is improving each year, although the operators require continual and/or better training to capitalize on the benefits.

What is your perspective on the global cherry industry?

The world markets are becoming more competitive as more countries receive protocol to countries like China, tonnage continues to increase, creating some market volatility. Overlap in production between competing countries as more growers plant earlier or later varieties is also causing issues. Developing new markets for cherries, planting new varieties, implementing better packing lines and controlling the cold-chain is extending shelf-life to ship by sea. This relieves stress on the growers and delivers healthier returns. Working in multiple countries we experience first-hand the successes and issues faced today in the cherry industry.

Logistic was a problem the past two years. How do you see this topic today?

We have only seen a minor decrease in sea shipping rates from North America to Asia (rates from China to North America are 70% less). Carriers have reduced sailings, offer fewer late-gates, and freight rates are still up +100% from pre-pandemic levels. At least sailing times have improved by an average 7-10 days. Air shipments were very difficult due to higher freight costs and less flights, this is also improving with airlines adding more flights and lowering freight rates.

Note: Images from company website

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