BUENA -- Ji-Min Hong plans to tell her fellow Koreans about Northwest cherries and her visit Wednesday to an orchard here and a Wapato packing house.
And it will be on a big stage.
An estimated 15 million people watch the 70-minute talk and variety show she co-hosts each weekday morning.
Next month she will air a segment on her visit, which included her husband, Sung-Soo Doh, and a film crew, to chronicle her visit to the orchard and Sage Fruit Co.
They even donned picking bags and harvested some of the Tieton variety cherries.
It is exposure of almost incalculable value for Northwest cherry growers as they work to broaden export markets for their product.
Expanding overseas markets, which currently make up about 30 percent of the crop, will be at a premium in the next few years when production could approach 20 million boxes.
The 2010 crop, with some damage from rain and cool weather, now is forecast at about 13.5 million boxes, which is a million boxes below the record, according to B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers, a five-state group.
Early-season varieties such as Chelan and Tieton are being harvested now. The season will pick up next week when harvest of the Bing variety begins in the Yakima Valley.
Hong, who also performs in an award-winning musical in South Korea, said cherries are very expensive in her country, sometimes included as an element in a romantic date. The general public doesn't have many opportunities to experience fresh cherries, she said through an interpreter, Jin Kim of Yakima.
"I want to show cherries to Korea and tell people what they don't know about it," she said during a noon stop at Windy Ridge Winery, overlooking the Yakima Valley.
Opportunities to sell cherries to Korea should improve. Thurlby said shipments there have increased dramatically over the past five years since South Korea reduced a tariff from 40 percent to 18 percent.
Last year, about 350,000 boxes of cherries made their way to South Korea, making it the fourth largest offshore cherry export market behind China, Taiwan and Japan.
Peter Verbrugge, president of Sage Fruit Co., which played host to Hong's tour, said growing export markets is critically important to the health of the industry. He said there are great opportunities to expand sales to China, Mexico and India.
But as often is the case, insect pest and tariff issues must be overcome, he said.
The industry's focus on export comes from the fact that half of the annual promotion budget for Northwest Cherry Growers is spent on export.
Thurlby said Asia is a focus for the industry since Turkey, which harvests more cherries than the Northwest, has closer access to Europe.
"The future for the cherry export business will be contingent on Asia," he said.
That's why Hong's visit is important. Northwest Cherry Growers financed the trip for Hong's six-member delegation that included her husband, a producer, a camera operator, writer and her manager.
The trip will cost about $20,000, Thurlby said.
But to reach 15 million Koreans with the industry's message would absorb more than the $1.4 million the industry spends annually on overseas promotion.