After years of wrangling over sanitary and phytosanitary issues, China is opening its borders to U.S. blueberries and barley, sparking new optimism from farmers who are looking to expand exports.

While the SPS negotiations were key to China’s actions, the country did agree to finalize its acceptance of the two crops in the “phase one” deal that was implemented in February.

“This is a positive development for U.S. barley farmers,” says Buzz Mattelin, president of the National Barley Growers Association. “Now more than ever it is vital that we diversify and develop new markets for U.S. barley, which has been experiencing reductions in acreage over the past decade.”

There’s still work to be done, though, says the U.S. Grains Council. The group says it will be working with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Chinese officials to develop fumigation and other practices required by the Chinese.

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For blueberry farmers, it’s a major breakthrough, Michigan farmer Tom Bodke tells Agri-Pulse. The U.S. exports to Canada, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea, but China’s growing middle class represents a huge potential for increased sales.

“It certainly is positive for blueberry farmers,” said Bodke, who is also a former chairman of the North American Blueberry Council. “Any new market is an important market. We spend a lot of energy on developing and opening up international markets. … China has a great population of middle-class consumers that love blueberries.”

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