Tech, best practices give Chinese apples big edge
2021-09-15

Fruit farmers set sights on opportunities worldwide, expand market reach

Editor's note: Implementation of the China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement is expected to expand the reach of quality products from both sides. This series looks at goods poised to tap into East-West markets.

For 10 busy days in August, fruit farmer Zhang Yuqing could be seen fussing over the apples in her orchard.

"We need to carefully trim the branches to make sure the fruit is exposed to as much sunlight as possible. It's crucial for their color and taste," she said.

"A farmer must know what the trees need at their specific stages of growth. It's like taking care of babies."

Zhang, 66, grows the apples in her 0.67-hectare plot in Yantai in East China's Shandong province. Fittingly, the close attention she pays to her trees has earned her the nickname "Apple Mom" among fellow Liujiawang villagers.

Zhang, who has three decades of experience growing apples, has also been replacing the old trees in her orchard with newer varieties.

Her expertise and efforts on the ground reflect the latest developments in the apple growing industry, which is a major pillar of the agricultural sector. Apple growing hubs across the country are increasingly meeting international industry standards through the use of improved technology and investment in global business practices, resulting in bigger markets at home and abroad.

Yantai is expanding the markets for its crunchy, pink and red apples by upgrading old orchards and investing in automation, sorting and transportation to boost the quality and quantity of its products.

It plans to upgrade its 80,000 hectares of orchards within two years to increase output and maintain quality, according to 2020-2025 industry development plans issued by the city government last year.

The city has 186,660 hectares of apple orchards, which produce 5.6 million metric tons of apples every year. About 600,000 tons of Yantai apples are sold in 82 countries and regions every year, including Southeast Asia, the European Union and the United States, according to official figures.

There are also plans to build more than 300 apple distribution centers in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen by 2022 to help expand markets.

Apples from agricultural hubs like Yantai are set to reach even more consumers worldwide, following their inclusion on the list of China's 100 geographical indications under protection in the European Union. The indication is a label for products that have a specific geographical origin with qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.