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The fight against gall wasp is starting to work. Piedmont and Tuscany are recovering, Lazio and Campania are not

Scarce chestnut harvests in Italy, though 2012 was worse

The fight against gall wasp (Dryocosmus kuriphilus), the chestnut parasite, is giving the first positive results, but it still looks like it's going to be a difficult season for Italy as there is little produce and the quality is not always exceptional. 

Despite the fact that harvesting is 20 days late and some areas still have to start, it is already possible to make a first assessment, "It's a bit better than last year, in the sense that from a 70-90% production drop we are now at -40-60%, but the situation is still very difficult," comments Ivo Poli, chairman of the Città del Castagno national association.

And so, if some regions are recovering, starting with Piedmont, where gall wasp treatment started first, the general situation is not encouraging. "Trentino Alto Adige is expected to end the campaign with 50% less produce than 2012. There are also very few chestnuts in Calabria, Lazio and Campania," explains Poli. Tuscany is the only one recovering together with Piedmont: production will still be 50% lower than normal conditions, but at least we are not talking about -80 or -90% like a year ago.

In the rest of Europe, there are big problems in France and Switzerland, whereas Spain and Portugal were not affected.

Chinese chestnuts invade the Italian market
"Around 50% of chestnuts consumed in Italy come from abroad," adds Poli, who is hoping that Italian and EU institutions will safeguard the product. "While Italian chestnuts keep having problems, China is invading the market and consumers don't know how to distinguish the Italian produce from the imported one, which is of considerably lower quality."

In fact, the drop in production favoured imports, which have tripled in the last few years and almost reached 15 million kilos in 2012.

On occasion of the IV European chestnut meeting held on 12th September 2013 in Bologna, Alberto Manzo from Mipaaf stressed how "the importance of Italy on foreign markets is menaced by competition from Asia, whereas the structural weakness of the production system, made up of small companies located on the hills, together with the changes in consumption trends, are affecting the survival of a sector that could be an important source of income and which safeguards the territory."

Manzo recognised that "the extent to which gall wasp has infested the Italian territory means that current regulations must be modified to adapt it to the needs chestnut production"

Gall on a chestnut branch.

EU support is needed
Luciano Trentini, deputy chairman of Areflh, is convinced that "there is a lot of interest in Europe for this type of fruit from both the fresh market and the processing industry. We must support European chestnuts through CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), by promoting research and innovation and making consumers understand the difference between imported produce from China and Korea and our local produce. The difference is huge and it is very important that people knows."

Piedmont "recovers", still nothing for Campania 
The situation is difficult, but some areas see the light at the end of the tunnel. Perspectives seem encouraging in Piedmont, especially because damage has been reduced. Harvesting started two weeks ago in the Monregalese valleys.

"As regards 'hybrid' Euro-Japanese plants, yields are good and quality is satisfactory, just like prices for producers. 'Local' chestnuts also are of good quality and have good prices, but if we analyse the situation we can see that production is not the same for every area, as in some parts yields were not so abundant. This was due to rainfall during summer and to gall wasp," explains Cristiano Gallio, Confagricoltura technician in the Mondovì area.

This difference in yields is confirmed by Adriano Rosso too, Confagricoltura director. "In the Grana, Stura and Gesso Valleys, the production is scarce because of a rainy spring and a very dry September, which did not favour the weight of fruits. This happened especially in the mountains, whereas the situation is better further down."

Campania is not doing as good, and FreshPlaza could witness the discouragement of those working for the Cooperativa castagne in Montello: "There is very little produce, and most of it is damaged. Warehouses are empty," says Elisa Danzi. "The awful weather during spring affected a product that is essential to the whole area. We hope things will get better next year."

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