International buyers look to forge Del. connections

Managing Editor

HARRINGTON, Del. (Aug. 11, 2015) — Making connections and building relationships in business is important, and farming is no different.
That was the goal when groups from Canada and Chile visited Delaware farms and the Port of Wilmington last month with state officials.
In one group, produce buyers from two major supermarket chains in Canada toured farms over two days, investigating what opportunities are available to bring Delaware fruit and vegetables into Canada.
The visit comes after two groups of Delaware farmers traveled to Canadain the winter  to meet with supermarket buyers and Canadian officials about the potential for shipping produce north.
In the other group, Chilean farmers and shippers toured the port, a leader in Chilean fruit imports already, and continued discussions about expanding trade at the port in winter months.
The groups converged at the Delaware State Fair July 30 during Governor’s Day as details of the trips were highlighted in the state agriculture department’s Agriculture Commodities Building.
In recognizing the visitors with separate Governor’s Citations, Gov. Jack Markell said exporting and importing more agriculture products can be a way to expand global trade for other businesses.
“As much as we sometimes believe our economy is only this country, the truth is we are incredibly dependent on how effective we connect with the rest of the world,” Markell said. “And that starts, frankly, with agriculture.”
Ed Kee, Delaware agriculture secretary, credited Delaware Department of State officials, Beth Pomper and Andrea Tinianow with being crucial to the progress of the two initiatives.”Part of our collective job is to find new opportunities for Delaware agricultural products for Delaware farmers to grow,” Kee said. “I’m sure there’s going to be good that comes out of it.”
While on the visit to Delaware, Oleen Smethurst, Costco produce merchandiser, said she was impressed by the passion and skill the farmers showed in running their operations.
“I really enjoyed them. They’re extremely knowledgable, they’re forthcoming, they’re willing to share exactly how they run their business,” Smethurst said. “They’re extremely passionate which is what we’re looking for.”
She said she there could be opportunity for more trade to supplement the shorter growing season in Canada.
“We’re still focused on local and we don’t want to not take in Canadian product when we can but we think there might be opportunities with slight windows when you have product when we may not have product,” she said. “It’s Mother Nature. There’s some seasons when we’re late or you might be early and we may help each other by getting product in from Delaware.”
Establishing contact with specific growers and seeing their production methods and capabilities firsthand is another big plus, she said.
Going forward, Smethurst said she discussed her company’s specifications for shipping with the farmers she visited and she plans to connect them with packers in Canada as some of the produce may shipped in bulk and the packed after crossing the border.
She said work now begins on identifying opportunities for the 2016 growing season.