"The quality of the Chilean blueberries has decreased in the last three seasons"

"Some people may call us alarmist," said Raul Dastres, the president of Valle Maule, "but we are not exaggerating or being pessimistic. We just want to generate an alert in the sector. Chile is not achieving a good quality level in the international market, and growing global competition is attracting more and more interest every year, to the detriment of Chile's position and valuation."

In his opinion, the quality of the Chilean blueberries has decreased in the last three seasons, at least in an important period of the season, and "the image that is being left is that the Chilean offer is not reliable. This isn't about a particular company, nor a specific variety. This encompasses all of Chile's offer," he said.

Valle Maule (valle-maule.cl), he said, is one of the companies that has a big tradition in the production of blueberries. It's had orchards for more than 25 years and has exported its fruit, and that of associated producers, to various markets for nearly two decades. The company was formed by producers that have representatives in the main markets, and, a few years ago, it incorporated two foreign partners, which are major distributors in Europe and Asia.

The Chilean supply's quality has decreased because of a combination of factors, which aren't easy to manage together, such as: "The existence of many orchards in bad condition or with inappropriate varieties, a complex climate, which has more extreme conditions and is unpredictable, the bad decisions some exporters have made, poor harvest management, among others," he stated.

He also said that, while the quality standard demanded by the markets had increased, due to the growing supply of better fruit from Peru, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, and other suppliers, Chile's quality had deteriorated.

This can't be solved by only making a varietal change, as some people propose, he said. "It's about doing things well in an integral way, starting by being responsible in the decision of what we export. The varietal replacement is important, but it's not enough. There are at least two difficulties that make it inconvenient to base the improvement on it alone: ​​first, it's currently very difficult to recover the investment made in a blueberry plantation, and second, it is a very slow process for the country, as it would take many years until the new variety represented a majority of our offer."

Time to make decisions
"We are convinced that Chile will lose many hectares, and that a new equilibrium will be reached in a few years. Anyone who wants to succeed in this scenario, must make cold and well-evaluated decisions, and make sure to perform very well," he said.

Producers must select which orchards to leave and which ones to abandon or replace, in addition to improving their management, starting with the harvest, he added. "Exporters should only ship the fruit they are certain that will arrive well, and be honest about the results with producers, regarding quality and sales," he said.

"Producers who want to be exporters must do so in earnest, and be involved in a deep, orderly, and synchronized commercial management with the market and the industry. The future won't be easy, if all of this isn't done massively in Chile," he stated.

Source: El Mercurio

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