Fruit exporters in Washington, Oregon and California have been in negotiations with Japan for years to allow cherry imports without requiring the fruit to be fumigated for codling moth. Growers in the U.S. have argued the pest is not a problem for cherries.
Japan agreed on Thursday to allow cherries from orchards that use traps to control the pest, rather than fumigate for it. Fumigation tends to shorten the cherries' shelf life, so growers have typically shipped them by air.
Under the new rules, growers should be able to export more cherries in the future by ship, which is less expensive.
"It's a big deal, not so much because of the volume, but because of the fruit quality," said Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, a nonprofit trade group that represents apple and cherry packers and shippers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. "Fumigation takes a toll on the fruit quality, and it does not have as good a shelf life."
The traps use pheromones to attract the moths then catch them with a sticky material.
Growers in Washington and Oregon can start taking advantage of the rule change this year because they began placing the traps in orchards in May, Archer said. The states are the No. 1 and 3 sweet cherry-producing states, respectively.
"Japan has been an important market for Washington cherries, and thanks to this new protocol, that trading relationship will continue to be profitable in the years to come," Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said.
Japan's rule change was developed too late in the harvest season for growers in California, the No. 2 sweet cherry-producing state, to take advantage of it this year.
Last year proved to be disappointing for Washington cherry growers after a spring frost reduced the size of the crop. In 2007, Washington growers produced $327 million in cherries, with about one-third of the crop going to export markets.
Canada is by far the largest market for cherries from the Northwest region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana, taking more than 1 million 20-pound cases in 2008. Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom follow, according to the industry group Northwest Cherry Growers.
The next top export markets are Japan, South Korea and Australia. They are the only three countries that have required fumigation for codling moth.
"Sometimes other countries that are strict on quarantine issues will follow Japan's lead," Archer said. "We're hopeful this will lead to open exports for those other markets as well."