Top fruit export remains in downward spiral

Argentinian top fruit marginalised in world market

The Argentinian top fruit sector is in dire straits. In recent years exports have, for various reasons, been in a downward spiral. The estimates for 2018 also show a further decline. Despite good weather and higher yields, the Argentinian top fruit harvest will not exceed the historic average next year. With 550 000 tonnes of apples and 600 000 tones of pears, sales are, however, higher than last year. This is according to a USDA report.

The 2017 figures have been slightly adjusted. In that calendar year, the apple harvest was 530 000 tonnes, as estimated. The pear harvest was larger than expected, also at 530 000 tonnes. The volumes for pears, as well as apples, were, however, lower than expected. Bad weather, including hail storms and late frost, depressed the yield. Acreage is also under pressure. An estimated 5 000 hectare of the acreage was hit by summer hail. In early 2016, 14 000 hectares were affected by frost. This caused a drop in the quality and volume of pears and apples.

Better quality and new varieties
Less was sold to the industry. This was the result of, among other things, good exports and the low prices that the industry laid down for the apples and pears. A larger volume of pears for the industry is expected since volumes are higher and less export is expected. The local players also cannot compete favourably on the international market. This is starting to play havoc with exports.

The sector's two most important challenges are, on the one hand, to improve quality in order to meet the demands of the export market. They also need to develop new varieties. This is especially true for apples. The Red Delicious, clones and standards, is the most cultivated variety. It accounts for 60% of the acreage. Granny Smiths are grown on 15% of the acreage and the Gala on 14%. The largest part of the pear acreage consists of Williams, Packham's Triumph and Beurre D'Anjou. Together, these varieties take up 81% of the acreage. A number of varieties, like the Abate Fetel, Red Bartlett, Beurre Bosc and Beurre Giffard have shown an increase in recent years.

Decreasing acreage
About 90% of the total apple and pear cultivation is centred in the Rio Negro provinces. In the Neuquen province, 10 - 15% is grown. The remainder is grown mostly in the Uco Valley, in the Mendoza province. There are 220 packing centres in the Upper Valley in the Rio Negro. Fifteen years ago there were still 9 000 growers. This figure has dropped to 2 400. 

Next year's acreage has increased after the provinces reviewed the data. The country cultivates 20 000 hectare apples and 26 500 hectare pears. Despite these climbing figures, the acreage is under pressure. The economic crisis in recent years has considerably decreased this sector's profitability. This has resulted in the decreased acreage. This trend can be seen in the Alto Valley and Medio Valley in the Rio Negro and in the Neuquen and San Juan provinces. In the Mendoza province, apple orchards are being replaced by grape vineyards.

Smaller farmers in Rio Negro and Neuquen, who can no longer keep their heads above water, are selling their orchards to larger growers, packing centres and exporters. If the trees are in very poor health, the orchards are bought by project developers. This entire fruit sector is being increasingly concentrated around a limited number of growers. The larger companies are, however, also feeling the effects of the crisis. This is leading to re-organisation and shrinking businesses.

Difficult international market
In the coming calendar year, apple exports will increase from 76 000 to 80 000 tones. Pear exports will climb from 260 000 to 280 000 tonnes. These figures are lower than the official estimates. The reasons for this are lower sales and the loss of the country's position. The difficult economic situation in exports also played a role in this. The economy in Brazil, for example, is not faring well. This, and plant health issues mean they have limited imports from Argentina.

This year, between January and August, the country exported 28 and 19% fewer apples and pears, respectively, than in the same period in 2016. This was, particularly for apples, due to a smaller volume. The country's competitive position, as already mentioned, also played a role in this. Argentina exports to about 60 countries. In 2016 Brazil was the largest market, by far, for both apples and pears, and the EU and Paraguay for apples. Pear exports are mainly focused on Russia and the EU. In the second half of the year, Brazil is an important market as the country does not produce any of its own pears. In March 2015, the Brazilian government closed its borders to Argentinian apples and pears. This was after Cydia pomonella was found in Villa Regina, in the Rio Negro province. After inspections by Brazilain authorities, the border was opened again in June 2016. The Argentinian sector, however, found the protocol that was put in place to be too strict. This hindered the export stream and growers chose to limit exports. In 2016, apple and pear exports decreased by nine and 17%, respectively, compared to the previous calendar year.

No profit from Russian boycott
Argentina has failed to take advantage of the Russian boycott of European products. The unfavourable exchange rate, among other reasons, did not benefit the growers. The devaluation of the Rouble and the crisis in Russia also did not help the situation. In 2016, apple exports to Russia decreased by 40%. For pears, exports cropped by six percent in comparison to the previous year. Exports to the EU showed a slight increase of two percent for apples and seven percent for pears. This is thanks to the limited harvest in the northern hemisphere. Paraguay's import regulations for apples and pears were not as strict, and they take third position. Despite the volatile market, the USA is a stable export market for Argentina. For organic fruit, in particular, it is a good destination.

In the first months of this year, the largest portion of exports was destined for global markets. In the second semester, exports orientated themselves on mainly the Mercosur countries. Brazil is, traditionally, a good destination that has fewer demands than the EU or US, but this has changed in recent years.

For organic apples and pears, the UK and US are, traditionally, the most important markets. The British market remains stable while the American one is set to grow. India has also opened its borders to Argentinian apples and pears, but export volumes were still limited in 2016. In 2014, China opened its borders, but strict import requirements means than limited volumes are exported to this market.

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