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Harvest Here, Enjoy There: The B.C. Cherry

CherriesWhat does a delicious fruit from the Okanagan have to do with YVR? Quite a bit, as it turns out. The airport plays a key role in a supply chain that connects B.C. food with global markets.

In fact, the B.C. cherry leaves the tree first thing one morning and arrives on the table in Hong Kong the next day: from tree to table in about 24 hours.

B.C. cherries are the last to ripen in North America, which means that they are available for autumn harvest festival celebrations in China.  And ripe cherries with green stems represent good luck and are often given as gifts.

Cherries are picked early in the morning to prevent the heat of the day from damaging the fruit. They are then washed, sorted, graded and packaged by employees at one of several dozen packaging operations in the Okanagan.

It’s the very best of the fruit that gets put on a truck and transported to YVR’s cargo facilities later in the afternoon. Freight forwarders in YVR’s cargo village know how to handle delicate and perishable products.  It’s their job to get these valuable commodities ready for a long international flight.

As the sun goes down, the fruit takes off. It’s not uncommon for B.C. cherries to fetch $20 a kilogram abroad –compared to $3 a kilogram here at home.
Just this year, China and Canada reached an agreement that opens the vast Chinese market to Okanagan cherries.  Next year, B.C. growers expect to sell $10 million worth of cherries to China alone, with that number doubling by 2015. This means jobs at the airport and jobs in the Okanagan.

The star of our food export story today might be cherries – but this is just part of the total picture.

B.C. exports close to $1 billion in seafood annually to more than 70 countries—crab, geoduck, prawns, salmon and other products from the sea move by air. Some $70 million worth of mushrooms also make the trip from YVR each year.  The most expensive mushroom in the world - the Matsutake or pine mushroom - grows wild in the forests around Terrace, fetching up to $100 per kilogram in Japan. 

Whatever the product, timing is crucial. The supply chain for perishable food needs to work completely in concert, with each cog inter-connecting so the entire system moves without breaks in timing.

We did some research to see how our airport operations could better support this system. And we found out -somewhat to our surprise- that our summer runway maintenance program could create a supply chain vulnerability. When our longest runway is closed for routine summer safety checks, airplanes have to take off on our shorter runway. Because it's hotter, aircraft may then have to lighten their loads in order to take off - and it’s the belly cargo, the perishables that get loaded last, that are sometimes left behind. So we need to know when cherries are in the pipeline.

As part of this process YVR recently joined the B.C. Cherry Growers’ Association to ensure our operations support a timely tree-to-table-journey for cherries and other B.C. perishables.  We’re also looking at the length of the north runway and whether it needs to be extended. Stay tuned.

But just as important as a fast journey to market is the number of markets we can reach. Here’s a fact that surprised me when I first arrived in the summer. YVR offers more weekly flights to China—75 in the summer peak—than any other airport in North America.  That’s 12 more flights than LAX and almost twice as many flights as Toronto.

In addition to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, our airline partners offer service to Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenyang.  But we want to build connectivity with even more secondary markets in China—cities that have from three to nine million people each. Today’s long-range aircraft make non-stop service to anywhere in China—and indeed all of Southeast Asia— possible from YVR.

But here’s the catch: while cargo in the belly of an aircraft helps to make a flight commercially viable, you need passengers in the cabin to sustain ongoing scheduled service.  B.C. does not have the market size to support a simple back-and-forth service between Vancouver and cities such as Xiamen, Wuhan, and Hangzhou.   

But if Vancouver serves as an intermediary point between China and cities in the US and South America—that combination of markets makes a service viable.  Our goal? We want to be China’s connection to all the Americas. Open up the market and we’ll bring jobs. We’ll create routes for B.C. cherries to reach Santiago. We’ll bring opportunities for mining companies to fly directly to their sites. 

And this is not a pipe dream: we have airlines lined up to fly between China and Latin America. Why? Because from any point in western Latin America, flying through YVR is the shortest route to Asia. Add our geographic advantage to B.C.’s elimination of the aviation fuel tax and our leading-edge systems and you’ve got a recipe for success.

To make this reality, we need the government to allow transit without visa between China and South America. That's it. Just the permission to get it done - we don't need loan guarantees or capital or even expertise - we have that. We just need the opportunity. Give it to us and we will see hundreds more jobs and direct flights to South America that would not otherwise exist.

Cherries, one of B.C.’s most revered exports - are the perfect representation of YVR’s role in the global supply chain.

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2 Comments

  • JOHN SCRIVANICH wrote on Oct 24 2013 AT 11:34 PM

    beautiful article well done,hope you get the permit.
  • Vreni Meier wrote on Oct 27 2013 AT 12:28 PM

    What a fabulous CHERRY story. I'm so proud of our BC. cherry growers to produce such a luscious and BIG cherry. As for YVR to be able to ship them ASAP so the Chinese people can enjoy this wonderful fruit so soon after harvesting. BRAVO!

    Vreni
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