Grape harvest in Northern Peru is underway, but harvest in the central and southern regions is still a few months out. For Vanguard Peru, harvest of the earliest grape varieties is expected to start between the second and third week of November. What is the impact of the global pandemic on harvest, packing, and exporting grapes from the company’s ranches in Peru? Dirk Winkelmann, Chief Business Development Officer at Vanguard comments on the challenges the industry is faced with.
“As you can imagine the current pandemic has been the most significant challenge that we have been facing over the past six months, both as an industry as well as a company,” said Winkelmann. Vanguard Peru instituted strict safety regulations across all operations at the beginning of March 2020. These will continue to be in place for the upcoming season. “We have been working very closely with the Peruvian authorities to meet or exceed all protocols to protect our work force and trading partners. Additionally, we have a very supportive grower community in Ica that is working closely together to maintain Peru as a socially responsible driver when it comes to the environment, water, and community health.” The industry overall, whether it is growers, packers, support services, logistics providers, or other supply chain entities are all committed to actively confronting and addressing the challenges.
Labor shortage, increased pay
The entire grower community is facing labor shortages, by far one of the more important issues that can most affect harvesting and packing. “As has happened throughout all the growing regions in Peru, a good portion of the labor has moved back to their hometowns and villages in the mountains out of concern for Covid-19,” commented Winkelmann. “This has resulted in a lack of labor at critical times and to address this, growers have had to increase the labor pay rate to attract and retain sufficient labor.” Pruning costs alone have increased an estimated 40 percent over the past two months. Not all growers have been able to easily weather this impact with the net result being a potential upcoming season delay in their harvest.
New space requirements for packing houses
The other significant challenge has been packing capacity that will affect packers with limited packing house space. “New requirements with spacing and personal protective equipment will create packing hardships for many growers,” Winkelmann said. “Fortunately for Vanguard Peru, our state-of-the-art packing house has sufficient space and was purposely built for planned expansion, which is allowing us to rapidly increase, almost double, our packing area for this coming season to accommodate the new requirements.”
People are key to success
The success of the coming season will depend on mother nature, people, markets, and other external challenges. “We keep our fingers crossed for the first one, but it is the people that work within Vanguard Peru that form the heart and soul of our business and ultimately define our success,” Winkelmann mentioned. “Our professional team of people throughout our entire organization, both in and outside of Peru, has been working in very unusual times. They are part of the ‘food industry’ and part of a complex structure providing nourishment to the world. Kudos and compliments to them for their passion and efforts!”
Quality and condition determine fruit destination
Vanguard’s promise is to bring the right fruit, to the right market, at the right time. “Our teams in Peru are well versed in understanding the myriad of pack types that our worldwide customer base demands.” Although North American customers command the highest percentage of the volume, Vanguard is working to introduce these exciting seedless varieties to overseas customers who have historically preferred Red Globes. “Indonesia, Korea, China, Hong Kong and Vietnam to name just a few. Our team reviews quality ‘on the vine’ daily and reports back on color, berry size and brix. As it should be – quality and condition will determine where the fruit is best suited.”