Castellon's love story with kakis is starting to come to an end. The fruit's cultivation grew in recent years with the search for alternatives to citrus, but two very bad consecutive campaigns have already caused many to uproot their farms to abandon the activity or return to oranges and mandarins.
Those walking around the rural roads of Castellón, mainly those of the Plana Baixa, but also of other inland areas, such as Alto Palancia, won't be surprised to see kaki plantations with hundreds of fruits on the ground, spoiled. That the campaign has again been ruinous is clear, and it has been confirmed by the president of Fepac Asaja in Castellón, José Vicente Guinot, who says that it is the second consecutive season in which prices have stayed too low.
Just four years ago, the price per kilo easily exceeded 50 cents, and even reached the Euro, but this is the second year in a row in which producers hardly managed to get more than 30 cents per kilo of fruit.
The use of the past tense is not accidental, since the kaki is a fruit that must be harvested during the month of October. If this is not the case, it is compulsory to apply a treatment that is not entirely effective in Castellón. This is confirmed by the technician of the Unió de Llauradors, Ferran Gregori, who states that this causes the lower half of the fruit to "ripen much more" than the upper half. Hence, problems arise in the fruit's cold storage and sale.
"But this is an issue that, by itself, does not explain all the difficulties" in the cultivation of a fruit that is already losing acreage in the province after reaching 230 hectares in 2017. The growth reached spectacular levels in the past, since three years ago there were scarcely 54 hectares in Castellon. But the tables have turned, and some farms in Vila-real or Burriana have already been uprooted this year, after verifying that the fruits would not be harvested, in some cases for the second season in a row.
Going on with Gregori's argument, Guinot assures that the "main problem" for kakis in the province is that the Valencian comarca of La Ribera controls the market. "Many trees were planted there a few years ago, and this process was accompanied by the birth or consolidation of businesses and cooperatives to sell the product. It would be difficult for them to come looking for fruit here, especially in years like the current one, in which prices are below the usual level and there is little movement," says the leader of Fepac Asaja.
According to Gregori, an added issue is that the province, unlike La Ribera, "has no kakis that are ascribed to the Protected Designation of Origin Persimon."
Damage from the rains
Both claim that something serious must be happening when kaki prices have not recovered despite the fact that the production is falling by up to 40% compared to the previous season due to the heavy rains that hit (mostly) the province of Valencia.
The fruit that is on the ground is already lost, but what the field professionals actually fear is the definite loss of another alternative to citrus fruits.