Spring is here and brings with it many fresh healthy foods, including blueberries. Known for their antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, blueberries are a healthy option that is becoming more popular around the world and the U.S. blueberry industry is taking advantage of this demand with the help of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Market Access Program (MAP).

Through MAP, FAS partners with U.S. agricultural trade associations, cooperatives, state regional trade groups and small businesses to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities that help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products and commodities.

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) represents over 2,500 growers in 38 states who sell fresh, frozen and processed blueberries. Members export to Canada (their largest market), Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, the Middle East and Mexico.  U.S. agricultural organizations representing producers, and individual small and mid-sized enterprises, benefit from MAP funding provided through nonprofit state and regional trade groups known as STRGs.  The funding, made available through the 2014 Farm Bill, supports marketing and promotional activities such as trade shows, market research, educational seminars and trade missions.

“Our market success begins with a visit to FAS staff in a particular country,” said Thomas Payne, USHBC market development consultant. “They give us a perspective of the market and facilitate valuable introductions with buyers. It’s essential for us to be in a U.S.-themed area so foreign visitors know where to find us.”

Through research, USHBC learned how different countries and regions use blueberries for health benefits. The Middle East is interested in blueberries to treat diabetes; in Asian countries there is a link between blueberries for health and beauty. To reach these markets, USHBC participates in the MAP through the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), an SRTG, whose members are the 13 western state departments of agriculture.  WUSATA receives MAP funds to support small and mid-sized exporters, helping them explore and expand sales in international markets.

Payne said FAS also helps USHBC overcome trade barriers and navigate the required processes for U.S. blueberries to gain access to certain markets around the world. This is important as USHBC’s long-term goal is to export 15 percent of its blueberries.

“To achieve this we need to succeed in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. These markets are massive and complex and we’ll need FAS’ continued presence and guidance,” said Payne.

This year, FAS awarded funding directly to more than 60 U.S. agricultural organizations to help open and expand commercial export markets for American products.  USDA will begin accepting applications for 2015 export development program funding on April 17, 2014.   Applicants can apply via the Unified Export Strategy online application system. Information is available at http://www.fas.usda.gov/unified-export-strategy.

USHBC’s success in exporting is an example of how FAS helps promote U.S. agricultural exports, which are currently experiencing the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history.