By the end of August this year, Argentina had imported a total of 5,670 tons of apples, i.e. almost 500% more than by the same date in the previous season. Regarding the end the second quarter of 2016, foreign purchases multiplied by about 25 times.
The data, which was presented a few days ago by the Gabinete MAG consultancy firm, undoubtedly marks a new commercial trend in the local market, especially when one takes into account that between 2005 and 2015 the import of fruits into the country was prohibited.
While relative jumps are important, within the total sales volume imports still do not have a serious impact on local sales. Statistics reflect this: in the first eight months of the year they accounted for 4% of total marketing in the entire national territory.
"It's a matter of concern to us and we're talking to the national government, but we don't want to talk about cutting imports. We need to incorporate technology at the same prices that our competitors have today. To do that, we must eliminate the current import tariffs that make all types of machinery more expensive, an essential factor to achieve the necessary changes in the activity," said Carlos Banacloy, head of the Rio Negro's Fruit and Vegetable Secretariat when consulted on the subject.
The pressure from producers to curb these purchases from abroad is increasing. It is a sensitive subject, taking into account the structural crisis that the activity has undergone in recent years. Week after week, dozens of trucks loaded with apples from Chile cross the High Valley on their way to the local markets.
In this context, a high source at the Ministry of Agricultural business stated that there was no possibility of closing the border with the neighboring country.
"The statistics mentioned are within our projections. This is caused by the conditions in which the activity is found. We estimate that imports will continue to grow, and may reach up to 7% of the Argentine market," stated the CEO of the CAFI, Marcelo Loyarte.
The causes of change
The internal apple market is moved by the flow of three important variables, and other secondary ones, which interact in many ways almost simultaneously: cold stock, consumption, and final product price.
According to the study prepared by Gabinete MAG, whose owner is the specialist Miguel Giacinti, the stock of apples in the Rio Negro Valley is 20% higher than in the previous year. A tour of the region's cold storage facilities endorses this data and shows that the quality of an important part of the fruit stored is not the best. A very important point to be able to define how much of that apple can reach the market in the remainder of the season.
Regarding demand, private statistics show that it continues to be strong and has been growing compared to 2016. In the first eight months of the year about 140,000 tons of apples were destined to the local domestic market, i.e. 22% more than the consolidated for this same date in the previous year. Most of the operators risk, in this sense, that consumption will continue to increase in line with the country's economy.
Regarding prices, a box of high quality apples (premium and high quality) is achieving good prices in the shelfs, but in general this quota of fruit that reaches the market represents less than 30% of the total stored. So the above sample can not be transposed to everything that is currently in cold storage.
On the other hand, the producers that have good apples in storage are currently asking for some 10 pesos per kilo for their product. However, the market is not validating these values.
In the absence of major shopping operations, some companies opt to import fruit from Chile at a significantly lower price, solving the short term problem of meeting the commitments they already have to supply the market. Important supermarkets chains and even local firms are importing apples from Chile to sell in key cities, such as Mendoza, Cordoba, the city of Buenos Aires and the suburban area of Buenos Aires.