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The world's leader in cherry production and exports, Chile, has overcome early spring rains at the start of the season to reach their second biggest export crop of just over 415,000 tons. They also exported their second biggest crop to China, reaching more than 376,000 tons. The Chinese New Year that took place last week, was the latest it has been in many years, allowing Chilean producers to catch up after the slow start with a longer sales window. Pricing in China was higher before their New Year. The main Chinese markets opened only three days after the New Year, which is unusually early for trading to resume. Traders there say movement is slow and prices low this week, but they are happy the bulk of the Chilean cherries have been sold. Shipping of Chilean cherries to North America, with the US as their second biggest market after China, is winding down. Chile reached lower volumes to the US than initially estimated.

Cherry imports into Europe are very limited, with high prices and a quiet market. Because it is winter in Europe cherry production is currently not taking place. Imports in Europe mostly come from Chile with good quality and high-end prices noted in Italy and France where prices are double. Production is due to start in Italy in May. Traders in the Netherlands are waiting for the first Spanish greenhouse grown cherries from the third week of March. Hungary is hoping for a good cherry harvest season later this year, with greenhouse grown cherries expected from May. February is traditionally a weak sales period in Germany with no local production and limited imports. South Africa’s cherry industry is in a buoyant phase with an increase of 70% in the planted area over the past five years. The domestic market pays premium prices for cherries, while the South African industry have their sights set on China in the future. However, this will take many years of negotiation with officials to gain access to this lucrative market.

Chile: Second biggest export year
Chile exported their second biggest ever crop to China, who received more than 376,000 tons. Early spring rains led to a slower start to their season. Arrivals in China were also slow with importers eagerly awaiting the early air and sea shipments with higher prices overall. The later Chinese New Year, also helped to have a longer sales period that aid the movement once the ships arrived with the big containers.

Claudia Soler, chair of the Chilean Cherry Committee, said their expectations are good, “mainly due to the good quality of the fruit that has been seen so far. And the level of investment that is being made in the markets that helps encourage demand and increase knowledge and interest in the category. We estimate that we should end up around a value very near to last season, where we exceeded 415,000 tons.” Besides China she says there has been a very good reception from consumers for the Chilean cherries in all their destination markets. She says in terms of exports, to date, 412 thousand tons have been sent, which represents a slight decrease of -0,7% compared to the same period of the previous season.

A Chilean exporter said, “the demand was crazy last week, but in general the fruit moved very well, even in containers with some minor issues.” This Chinese New Year was celebrated on February 8th, later than the previous seasons, so the Chinese consumption was mainly focused in varieties harvested during December, that were less affected by climatic conditions; such as the new variety Areko, cv which is having a good reception by the Chinese consumers in its first shipments, another industry expert in Chile noted. This positive feedback about Areko is because it’s heart shaped and has a brilliant surface that is being noticed as a very positive and distinguishing characteristic.

China: New Year’s celebrations continue with Chilean cherries
An importer in China said: “Because we had a later CNY this year, there was not too much left of the volume of cherries that are now in the market and the same for the fruits on the way to China, with most of the fruits from Chile. There is some inventory from New Zealand and Australia."

The pricing was higher just before the New Year. “In general the price was trending up and it was the same for the demand with the approach of CNY, especially last week before CNY demands and price reached its peak point," an importer noted.

Another Chinese fruit exporter noted that their local production does not come close to the quality seen in the Chilean imports, noting that this is one of the reasons why the South Americans do so well over there.

North America: Chilean cherry shipment to North America coming to a close
Shipping of Chilean cherries to North America is winding down. Originally, 95.4 million boxes for the 2023/24 season had been projected--a 15 increase over last year. However weather issues emerged and the volume increases originally projected out of Chile didn’t materialize, so total exports will be slightly less than last year.

Through week 5, Chile had shipped 13,829 tons of cherries to the U.S. (the second largest export market for Chilean cherries), which represents 3.4 percent of total shipments this season. U.S. shipments started slowly in week 4, with weeks 50-52 the peak weeks. Given that the U.S. is the second largest export market for Chilean cherries, it’s anticipated that market expansion will continue over the coming years.

Variety-wise, Lapins were the dominant variety, followed by Santina and Regina. While Chile is the dominant supplier of cherries to the U.S. during the winter months, the market also receives small volumes of cherries from Argentina and Tasmania.

The Netherlands: waiting for the first Spanish greenhouse cherries
It is currently quiet on the European cherry market. “In the third week of March we will start with the first Spanish greenhouse cherries from Northern Spain,” says a Dutch importer. “The prospects for Spanish cherries are good. After a warm autumn, the temperature has dropped considerably, allowing the trees to have a good winter rest. The first trees are currently starting to develop buds, within two weeks the trees will come out of their rest period. Because there is no shortage of water, no problems are expected. Only frost during flowering or rain/hail just before harvest can spoil the harvest.”

France: Out of season prices normally very high
Very few cherries are currently available on the market. Those available on certain wholesale markets come from South America (Argentina and Chile). As a result, prices are very high, more than double those of in-season cherries. Unsurprisingly, demand is also lacking in February. On the official market website, cherries are listed at €20 per kilo (excluding tax), which are wholesale prices.

Hungary: Out of season greenhouse developing for mid-May harvest
According to a producer and exporter in Hungary, in the open field cherry orchards there is no real movement of the trees yet. Recently there have been some temperature of 10-15 degrees during the day, that is advancing the nature, but cherries are not clearly developing yet.

In the closed greenhouse they cherries are in green bud in most of the low chill varieties. These cherries grown in greenhouses are expected to be harvest from mid-May.

Italy: low imports, very high prices
Cherry imports into Italy are currently very low. Only a few high-end shops offer a few packs of the product, mostly from Chile. A well-known cherry expert says that some cherries are imported during the Christmas period. "The fruit arrives by air and costs up to 30 €/kg. It is a real luxury that few can afford. It takes 7-8 days from harvest in Chile to sale in Italy and the product, well selected and packaged, is of excellent quality".

On the Italian side, production starts in May and is very diversified because there are so many production areas in Italy and in completely different landscapes. There are around 30,000 hectares under cultivation, half of which are in the Apulia region alone. "The problem is that Apulia produces almost exclusively the Ferrovia variety, which was selected in Germany and is poorly suited to the Apulian climate, especially with the climate changes that are taking place. Ferrovia should produce about 10 tonnes per hectare to be profitable for the growers, but instead the yield in Apulia is about 3-4 tonnes per hectare," he says.

According to GfK Consumer Panel Services, 32% of Italian households bought cherries in the last 12 months ending December 2023, a percentage that is lower than two years ago.

Germany: Weak sales
February is a weak sales month for sweet cherries, which is why the item has now been discontinued in many places. Nevertheless, cherries are also becoming increasingly important in winter. This year, cherries sourced mainly from Chile were particularly popular as gifts for the Chinese New Year.

Many growing regions in Germany can look back on a rather disappointing 2023 cherry season. "Here, Turkish imports in particular were much cheaper than domestic fruit, which is why it was extremely difficult to generate sales. I also fear that it will remain challenging to compete with imported goods on price in the coming years," reports a fruit wholesaler.

South Africa: Cherry industry in buoyant phase
The planted areas increased by 70% over the past five years with 678 hectares by 2022.
The bulk of South African cherries grows in the Koue Bokkeveld, where one company has been a front-runner with orchards starting in Worcester, then moving to the Warm Bokkeveld and then the Koue Bokkeveld.

Other companies in the north of the country have realized that there is an export window before Western Cape cherries, during the month of September when fresh cherries are not available from anywhere else on earth. Enter low chill requirement cherry cultivars for unlikely places such as Limpopo and Northwest Province for exactly that period.

As an alternative to the traditional European buyers, South Africa would very much like to send cherries to China too within the next five to ten years. For now, it’s still a pipe dream: stonefruit access for South Africa is still being negotiated with Beijing.

“Logistics will play a big role,” notes an industry stakeholder. “If you have the varieties before Chile but you arrive after Chile in the Chinese market, what does that help you?”

Exports aren’t the only option; cherries obtain a premium price locally too but per capita consumption is 200g per year. The industry paid particular attention to the domestic market during the 2023 season. The industry is funding research into cultivar suitability. Over the past season the quality and fruit size were most satisfactory.

Spain: Flowering of trees keenly watched
It's still too early to forecast the harvest for the 2024 Spanish cherry season, as the first greenhouse collections don't usually start until the end of March, and open field harvesting not until the end of April.

For now, depending on the production areas, there is a significant variation in the flowering state in zones under plastic, due to the influence of the weather. Cherry trees are advancing their blossoming by about 15 days in the lower areas of the Ebro Valley

"While in the lower producing areas of the Ebro Valley, in the south of Tarragona, flowering is advancing by about 15 days due to the good weather brought on by the anticyclone, the situation is quite different in the earlier areas from Zaragoza to Terres de l'Ebre, including the province of Lleida, where dense and cold fogs in the last two weeks have held back flowering," explains a producer and exporter.

"With just a 20-kilometer difference between the fog-covered territory and the one not, the difference in the state of flowering is very significant. It's worth noting that an advancement in flowering in areas more prone to frost could be very damaging," he warns. "On the other hand, it's important to highlight that in both areas, the requirements for chill hours are being met," he adds.

Regarding the Jerte Valley, in Extremadura, another important cherry production area, rainfall has been much higher than usual so far, which could delay flowering, although the trees should awaken with more vigor.

The Spanish cherry production in the 2023 campaign amounted to about 108,000 tons according to data from MAPA, an 8% decrease from 2022. Indeed, in the Jerte Valley, in Extremadura, a 60% loss in productive volume was recorded due to the intense rains in May. The regions of the Ebro Valley (Aragon-Catalonia) had a higher production, but did not compensate for the reductions in the rest of the national territory. The cherry area slightly decreased by about 145 hectares compared to the previous year.

Next week's topic: Pears