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Spanish peaches under coverPeaches from Spain are usually available as of week 20. However, there is a way to get the fruit to market in advance of this - under cover cultivation in polytunnels. This brings the fruit into the market place around 3-4 weeks earlier than is usual in conventional cultivation.
However, this is a special kind of product that is never going to be widespread. The appeal of the product lies in its uniqueness. As Ruben Morte of Agrisana points out, "The aim of these peaches is to reach specialist markets, people who want to gain the market first or show the product before anyone else. It's a novelty, a symbol of prestige.
"Peaches grown under cover are purchased only by specialists, never for retailers or supermarkets. Prices, in my view, are prohibitive to such a wide, generalised circulation."
Cultivation of peaches in this manner is not without risks, for the associated markets are as temperamental as the weather - quite literally. As Ruben points out: "Cold weather really affects the market. It makes for a drop in consumption - and a drop in prices also, as the peaches have a short shelf-life."
In addition to this there is also only a small window of opportunity to sell the peaches. The availability corresponds, roughly, to the month of April.
"By week 18 the harvest is ended. Week 19 at the latest," says Ruben.
Despite the speciality nature of peaches cultivated in tunnels there is a growing market for such fruit. Italy and Russia are the main markets currently, but there are signs that other European destinations, such as the Netherlands are starting to take an interest.
Ruben says that other countries are also starting to take an interest in this type of cultivation - a sure sign of growing market potential. Morocco, he says, is a potential future contender.
"Morocco is already doing nectarines in this way and I understand they are planning peaches."
Ruben explains the process behind the cultivation, saying, "The under cover cultivation moves forward all the physiological processes of the plant since it creates a sort of eco-system in which the temperature is increased by around 3-4 degrees.
"As the soil experiences higher temperatures earlier than in conventional cultivation the plant's internal vascular system starts working early. Moreover the temperature is kept steady during the night.
"All of this makes the plant move forward in advance. The brix level advance is a subsidiary effect of all this.
The brix will reach a minimum of 8 before the harvesting takes place."
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