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"We may be short of workers to pick the cherries due to the coronavirus"

José Antonio Tierno Parral has been a member of the governing council of the Association of Cooperatives of the Jerte Valley for 22 years and has chaired the entity since February 28. In an interview with the news site, Tierno Parral took stock of the cherry campaign in Extremadura and the challenges that the sector is facing this season.

“The Association of Cooperatives is a well-established company that has been doing a great job for many years. My idea is to bring the entity closer to the producers, because I feel there has been some distancing, with the decisions that the Association makes being perceived as impositions. I want the partners to know that everything is done thinking about their benefit and trying to improve the profitability of their farms,” he said.

For the president of the Association of Cooperatives of the Jerte Valley, the lack of profitability of the activity in Extremadura is one of the main problems they are facing. "Cherry prices are low, while costs are high. The issue is that the structure of the farms, which are mostly family-based, helps maintain this situation. Many times, the producer's own workforce and that of his family are not taken into account. If we add that work to the production costs, I don't know if we could talk about cherries being a profitable crop.”

As Tierno Parral pointed out, that very structure of the farms is what leaves them out of the CAP aid. “Cooperatives, at least in the area that I know, are the most appropriate solution, and I think this could be extrapolated to the entire primary sector. Unity makes you stronger when it comes to negotiating and obtaining better prices. Producers trying to sell their products individually compete with each other and that pushes prices down.”

For the president, crop diversification could be a solution to the current situation. For example, figs and chestnuts are good alternatives to the production of cherries in the region. Moreover, current farms must try to reduce labor costs in the harvesting. "We do all the calibration and selection process at the sorting plants. It is therefore advisable to change the structure and set up plantations with smaller trees and a higher density, so that the harvesting is easier and faster.”

The cherry harvesting campaign in Extremadura will start in about 40 days, but the coronavirus crisis is causing great uncertainty. ”They say it will take two to four months for this situation to pass. There are a thousand possible scenarios and some are very worrying. It is possible that we won't be able to harvest the fruit due to the lack of workers, or that we'll harvest it and then not be able to market it or export it,” said Tierno Parral.



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