Argentina: Increased inputs complicates next season's strawberry

Macro-tunnels. The incorporation of technology in the orchards has ensured a good product and market price. 

The planting intention in recent campaigns has been low and the forecasts for next year are not encouraging. Forecasts are that the planted surface will continue to drop because of the rise in costs, which in some cases amounts to 100%, the official dollar, which remains at $8.50, and the low profitability of the sector. 

"Production costs are very complicated. The dollar doesn't change and some inputs increased by nearly 100%. It is a very important issue that will impact next season. Currently, producing a hectare of strawberries with the macro-tunnels costs between 300,000 and 400,000 pesos. It's a very big investment and the returns are almost non-existent, "said Ricardo Ramirez, president of the Association of Producers from Coronda. 

Ramirez added that the inflation was a major problem and that it was strongly affecting the sector. "Last year we sold strawberries at 7 pesos and now they're at 9 pesos, but the inputs increased by 60% on average. This is the reality of the sector," he said. 

In this sense, the producer said the investment per hectare was very important, but without regulating its return, as for example with the pear and apple. "The strawberry works by supply and demand, and we can't store it as we can do with other productions, which allows producers to better define when to sell and to play with the sales price. We can't transfer the financial costs of producing the fruit to the product price," he said. 

Ramirez said all the sectors of the primary production chain were having the same problems. "We have a problem with the dollar so we're unable to export and must send all our fruit to the local market and increasing the supply lowers its value. The industry prices aren't bad, but they aren't good enough to bet on a larger area," he said. 

The head of the Association of Producers said the soil characteristics in Coronda only allows them to cultivate strawberries. "We have to continue betting, Coronda has a product that is recognized in the national and international market. We've been planting the same amount as in 2013, or maybe a little less, but unfortunately not in the best way," he stated.

The producer also spoke about the progress of the current campaign. "We are in the middle of the season and we've finished marketing our prime fruit. We're practically only working with fruit that has industrial use-for drinks, yoghurt and ice cream, which currently has a very strong demand," he said. 

Ramirez said the weather had been good, despite the rains that flooded several acres in early 2014. "We've had a good production this year, the only problem we've had was at the start of the season with our suppliers of seedlings, as they couldn't deliver the seedlings due to weather. Thus, their implementation was delayed but we still have very good fruit, "he stated. 

On this issue, he said buying the seedlings in the south of the country had been the right decision. "This gives us the ability to compete with Tucumán, as our harvests virtually start at the same time in May, at the season's peak. In addition, the incorporation of more technology, such as the macro-tunnels, has helped us guarantee an excellent product and a higher market price," he added.

Articulation with the State 
Ramirez stated that they continued having meetings and workshops with government agencies to seek a solution for fruit pickers, an activity that has very particular characteristics. 

"This year, we've achieved taking the officials to the fields so they can see the characteristics of the sector and the reality of the city and the area. We've got to give the producers and the employees tools, which is why we had some training sessions with the province's Ministry of Labour, the producers and Anses," he said. 

2014 Campaign 
This season, Coronda and the area that includes the towns of Desvio Arijon and Arocena planted about 280 acres. It's worth noting that the strawberry production amounted to 700 acres 10 years ago. "It would be impossible to get back to that kind of surface because the oversupply would lower prices and render it impossible. 

Another aspect to keep working is the designation of origin; "Unfortunately, the producer doesn't really understand what this implies," said the head of the Association, which represents some 100 producers, 60% of them Coronda. 

Source: El Litoral

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