The future looks promising for small organic producers. "We cannot complain. We export to countries with a stable organic market, such as Denmark or Germany," says Victorio Catalán, of Saltamontes Bio. "Although organic farming is more vulnerable to losses, we have found feasible solutions." For example, the group has created a premium quality compote line made with excellent quality fruit that is, however, aesthetically unfit for marketing.
“Hail is common here because of the weather; it cannot be avoided, and it causes aesthetic damage, even if the fruit is still excellent in terms of taste and nutrients. For now, we have a line of pear and apple compotes, but we are about to launch new flavors, namely peach, plum, cherry and also fruit with spices. The German market has shown great interest in this range of organic products,” says Victorio.
"Spanish organic cherries are key to opening international markets"
“Our commercial agenda is strategic. For example, with France we will soon be able to fill production gaps with exclusive chambers for organic products, allowing us to supply pears until August,” says Victorio.
“But cherries are booming and making it possible to open up markets that used to be perceived as unreachable. We grow late mountain cherries at an altitude of about 800 meters. These have a dark red skin and red flesh which give them an attractive appearance, as well as firm flesh and a high Brix. Foreign customers are demanding and want a range of varieties: prime Giant, Bing, Dorotea, Lapins, Bertrana and Sweet Heart.
“Each fruit and vegetable fair has a different potential”
Speaking of fruit and vegetable fairs, Victorio tells us that, for small organic producers, fairs tend to be a bit inaccessible, given the time and resources required. “This has been our first year at Fruit Logistica and we are really satisfied. Just a few days after the fair, we have already been contacted from many countries, including Dubai, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Greece, the Netherlands or Ghana.”
“We are considering participating in Iberia Organic Food, an emerging fair with great potential for new contacts. Fruit Attraction is more a meeting point for already woven and stable relationships,” says Victorio Catalán.
Victorio Catalán (left) with Víctor Casado at Fruit Logistica
"Some pear and apple varieties are still unknown by the consumer"
We grow Gala, Reinette, Ladina, Golden, Mandi, Red Chief, Fuji and Green Maiden apples. But in the end, it seems that the consumer only consumes the popular ones, or those backed by a lot of marketing. However, the organoleptic and nutritional characteristics of the unknown ones are incredible,” says Victorio.
"Most of the apples and pears we export go to traditional markets like Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, where only the best known varieties are consumed."
"To give an example, our Ercolini and Blanquilla pears are very attractive, and also our Fuji apples. The temperature difference between night and day of the mountain valleys results in unique color changes in the fruit impossible to achieve in other climates. This is what gives the fruit its unique character. The lowest altitude is 530 meters and the highest is about 900 meters. Contrasts of 22 degrees between day and night lead to color variations and improvements in terms of taste and quality, which gives added value to the fruits,” says Victorio.
"Current agriculture is in danger of extinction"
“Until recently, talking about ecology was scary, mainly due to lack of knowledge. In the minds of many agricultural producers, working ‘without bottles’ sounded like science fiction. Our strength lies in having committed partners, such as Andreu Vila, technician and professor at the University of Barcelona specialized in organic farming. He has advised us and generously conveyed very valuable knowledge that has allowed us to move forward. Other valuable partners are the field technicians Mar Anesto, Ana Juan and Ana Lafita,” says Victorio.
Victorio tells us about the situation of the current agricultural system. “Our agriculture is in danger of extinction, but the quality seal protects us. The reality is alarming. We hear chainsaws all day long; those of the growers cutting down their pome and stone fruit trees. Price competition and big chains are forcing them to give up,” says Victorio. “Many producers then stay unemployed or become truck drivers, leading to further depopulation. We hope that no one will think of buying all the small farms to standardize them and mechanize them on a large scale. That would be a great loss, since the paradox is that we survive by being small and producing organically,” says the member of Saltamontes Bio.
A story and the dream of repopulation
Saltamontes Bio was set up by a group of women and men from the Calatayud region responsible for a total of 200 hectares of organic fruit trees. With a production of almost 2 million kilos, the partners in this project are Fina Martínez, Víctor Casado, Alberto Estella, Victorio Catalán, Eduardo Bernal, Marisa Rubio and José Luis Herrero, but they hope to continue growing.
“Our dream is to help this unpopulated area grow and to protect the agricultural landscape. We cannot compete with the prices of the conventional line, but we can make a living from our organic farming,” says Victorio Catalán.