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Development of own varieties to reduce foreign supply
Spain: Huelva's strawberries come originally from North America
The Florida Fortuna, Victory, San Andreas or Calinda were the main strawberry varieties grown in Huelva during the 2016-2017 season. All of them are the result of genetic improvement programs carried out by the University of Florida (Fortuna) and California (Andreas).
In the 1950's, the strawberries grown in Spain were almost wild. In the 1970's, when industrial production began, there was a search for varieties that were more resistant than the traditional ones. Antonio Medina Lama imported the Californian model with a longer lasting variety, giving rise to the creation of the first agricultural cooperatives.
Currently, 73% of the strawberries planted in Palos de la Frontera, Moguer, Lepe and other municipalities in the province of Huelva pay licenses to North American universities, according to the latest report prepared by Servifapa. Thus, for every 1,000 plants, nursery growers pay 20 Euro in royalties.
Altogether, during 2016, strawberry producers paid US breeders more than 12 million Euro, reports José Luis García Palacios, president of Interfresa, the Strawberry Interprofessional Association.
In 1998, strawberry growers, nursery growers and Caja Rural del Sur created the company Fresas Nuevos Materiales (FNM), with the aim of developing their own varieties to supplement and reduce the burden of the foreign supply.
The process to obtain a new variety begins with the crossing of two varieties with desirable characteristics. This union is considered an individual. Every year, the FNM carries out from 80 to 90 crosses, which result in between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals. They are then selected depending on their precocity, disease tolerance, firmness, colour and sugar level. Some 180 families are assessed every year, of which only 25 families go into the second year. The varieties obtained are examined under different productive situations and on an even larger scale in fields of shareholder producers.
After this process is completed, they are registered in the Spanish Office of Plant Varieties and in the EU Office of Plant Varieties. The FNM cultivates them in vitro to offer them free of pests and ships the mother plants to associated nurseries (mainly from Avila and Segovia), which freeze them from December to March. They are then planted at high altitudes in spring, as strawberries need cold temperatures to develop. Later, in October, they are transplanted to Huelva, where the fruit is harvested within 50 days.
At present, the national strawberry varieties Primoris, Rábida and Rociera account for 30% of the production. The goal, according to the president of Interfresa, is for this percentage to reach 50% within the next 10 years.
"In 20 days, about 20 million plants are handled," explains the manager of Finca Masiá Ciscar, which has retailers like Mercadona and Lidl among its main customers. "In 1977, the harvest was carried out in March; today it is done from December, reaching its peak in January. The production starts in October because it does not make sense to reach Central Europe in May, when those markets have local strawberries available," he points out. The production is subject to strict phytosanitary controls.
Of the total Spanish strawberry production, 90% is devoted to the export market. Sales abroad have grown by 15% over the last five years, standing at about 290,000 tonnes. Germany (30%) and France (20%) are the main destinations for Spanish strawberries. Behind these two countries we find the United Kingdom and Italy.
Gefrusa, made up of 40 producers from Huelva, is one of the province's biggest names, since it sells its entire production abroad. In 2016, the firm reached 44 million Euro in revenue and employed 500 people.
Up until 2018, the EU, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment and Interfresa will be promoting Strawberries of Europe over those of other origins in Spain, France and Germany. The "Vive La Roja" campaign, which has a budget of 3.6 million Euro, is focused on the promotion of its quality, environmental sustainability, traceability and food safety and it aims to increase consumption by 5%.
Publication date: 3/20/2017
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