Craving a juicy, sweet honey crisp apple in July? You’ll likely pay around $4 per pound, about twice the price for the popular Northwest-grown variety during the peak fall season.

But some people are willing to pay more for out-of-season apples, creating a specialty market.

That’s what it’s like for people in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China who really love Oregon blueberries. Demand exists and people are willing to pay a premium for a clamshell of the large, flavorful berries that were harvested and flown within hours to locations around the world.

Oregon is fifth in the nation at producing what are known as specialty crops, and developing these markets is a focus for the state, said Terry Fasel, manager of marketing development with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

“There are a number of crops we grow either all of or a great preponderance of,” Fasel said.

These include blueberries, marionberries, blackberries, black raspberries and hazelnuts, all of which are grown in the mid-Willamette Valley.

Linking Oregon’s specialty crops to international markets is good for the economy, Fasel said.

“In a nutshell, the more we can move offshore, the better margin we make, the more profitable our growers are and the more jobs and sales we create,” Fasel said.

Getting these goods to foreign markets just got a little easier, with the announcement earlier this month by Cathay Pacific Airways that it would offer direct air cargo service from Portland to Asia, a primary target of Oregon’s specialty crops. Cathay will begin twice-weekly flights between Portland, Hong Kong, Anchorage and Los Angeles. The company expects to transport tech, clothing, seafood and berries.

Lowering the cost of Oregon-made products and goods to consumers could lead to increased sales, Fasel said.

Compared to berries that have traveled by boat for 21 days, the air cargo berries are much fresher.

“The quality of that fruit is certainly at its peak,” he said. “That builds brand awareness. That makes us more competitive and it’s making us more efficient from a production and growing standpoint.”

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