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Argentine fruit growers waiting for 540 million pesos in aid

August will be a key month for the fruit growing activity of the Alto Valle de Rio Negro and Neuquén, which is waiting for 540 million pesos to prune the fruit crops; an activity that should have already been done. The delay in the aid that hundreds of producers require to conduct pruning activities, something that affects the quality of the fruit in the following years, is the last chapter in the sector's decline, especially in the export of pears. Negotiations with the national government were at an advanced stage, but the aid will come too late for most producers. Producers told desperate stories at a CAME meeting.

An advance of about 100 million pesos of the aid will be disbursed in the coming days by the National Agricultural Industry Fund (Fondagro), which is coordinated by Ernesto Ambrosetti. The delay generated a strong controversy in the fruit sector, but the inertia of the conflict was stopped by the pre-PASO climate.

The fund includes a first delivery of 50% of the money when the pruning tasks are registered in Funbapa, and the rest once they are completed. Producers will receive about 15 thousand pesos per hectare. In fact, they should have already received it as the pruning of fruit trees season should already be over.

The beginning of the crisis
The region has been experiencing a fruit crisis for around 20 years, but the sector faces new complexities each period, especially for the small independent producers who currently don't know what to do with their fruit because of the prices paid by the sheds, the cost of inputs throughout the year, the high sanitary requirements of the markets and, above all, the labor cost of producing pears and apples in the region.

According to data from Senasa, in the first half of this year producers exported a total of 241,881 tons of the pears, i.e. 12% less than the 283,657 tons it exported in the same period of last year. Meanwhile apple exports fell by nearly 27%, going from 56,769 tons to 41,428 tons.

The president of the Argentine Chamber of Integrated Fruit Growers (CAFI), Pablo Cervi, said that they expected the funds would arrive in days, but stressed that they were arriving too late. "In general, not pruning the trees on time has consequences on the fruits quality in the next two seasons. This makes it harder to comply with some market's phytosanitary requirements to export," he added.

The main export markets for pears and apples are Russia, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Fruit-growing is going through a complex stage at this time, due to the progressive disappearance of some producers who were unable to adapt to the demands of the markets and with the presence of large companies that have fruit-bearing crops that take the almost total share in exports. For example, just two companies in the area carry out 40% of the exports of pears and apples. In addition, some 20 medium-sized producers and their companies account for about 5% of the market share. Some producers in the region chose to convert their crops to different varieties of pears and apples, so as to penetrate the markets. Others, however, have stopped growing fruits altogether and moved to other lower added value agricultural activities, such as the cultivation of forages and livestock through the feedlots.

While the Government's aid might arrive soon, things still look grim for this small sector.

Publication date: 8/11/2017


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