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Year overview: July/August

Climate-related concerns topped headlines in July and August.

In North America, the “heat dome” on the West Coast took its toll on crops quickly. One Idaho grower predicted that it would undoubtedly reduce crop yields. California almonds were estimated to be 10 percent lighter than last year thanks to both the heat but also the drought the state was experiencing concurrently. In turn, both the heat and the drought would have growers rethinking crops and water allocation for 2022. The heat also brought an early start for Pacific Northwest apples while Oregon pear growers also readied themselves for the effects on their fruit.

Meanwhile in Europe, flooding decimated vegetable fields in parts of the Netherlands. And Sicilian producers faced a number of issues affecting fruit and vegetable production including anomalous heat, volcanic ash and lapilli, wildfires and more.

Global logistics concerns also proved to be an increasingly topical subject. Port congestion on both coasts was predicted to cap second-half U.S. import capacity while South Africa’s Durban port congestion forced northern citrus growers to suspend packing for a week.

Container issues emerged to be particularly problematic--shipping container shortages were getting worse while container freight rates were also up more than three-fold in 12 months. (One ginger importer said due to high container fees, it shopped importing Chinese ginger five weeks earlier.) “The industry is currently facing one of the biggest global challenges we have experienced to date. It has everyone in the supply chain from growers to customers asking “where in the world is my container?” noted the president of one growing-shipping companies. In turn, uncertain shipping times created insecurity in the Chinese fruit market.

As the industry began exploring solutions, in the U.S., with regards to its pressing truck and driver shortages, one solution raised were possible reforms around truck drivers.

Greenhouse growing news also proved popular. As one greenhouse grower said: ““I spent my first 25 years on a farm and the next 25 years in technology.” Another grower noted that it went from zero to 72 acres of greenhouse-grown strawberries in five years. And one of the biggest open field growers in North America entered the greenhouse growing market with an investment in a greenhouse company. 

In more direct commodity-related news, avocados were another popular subject in July. The United Nations Agricultural Outlook reported that avocados expected to remain the fastest growing commodity of the major tropical fruits from 2021-2030. And in China, consumer demand for ready-to-eat avocados were growing fast in Chinese second- and third-tier cities. All of this at a time when the global avocado industry mourned the loss of Dr André Ernst, the visionary behind the Maluma avocado cultivar, who passed away due to COVID-19.

The industry continues to develop around avocado production--the benefit of applying shelf-life extension coating to avocados in their country of origin is being explored. This includes plant-based solutions.

Regional avocado-related issues were also emerging. In Mexico, As Mexican drug cartels muscled in on massive avocado sales, armed civilians fought back. This in a month where avocado supplies were down with the Mexican crop transitioning.

In Peru, there were shifting trends with its avocado supplies. Despite a nice rhythm since the start of the Peruvian campaign, there were still volumes to be sold until the end of September, most of which were large caliber avocados.

And in Australia, increased avocado production provided more opportunities for Australian growers.

Also on commodity news, berries and cherries also made headlines. In the U.S., as blueberry supplies moved north, availability proved tighter than anticipated--perhaps because in some cases, such as Oregon, the heat wave had a peculiar effect on blueberries. But in the east, New Jersey was underway with its blueberry season which met strong demand for the fruit.

In France, demand also proved strong for French blueberries. However for the third time since 2018, frost has caused severe damage to the French blueberry crops--this year, 80 percent of the production has been impacted for some blueberry farmers. 

Yet greater volumes of blueberries were predicted to start in August from Mexico. Peru also saw the start of a strong season, albeit one that began three weeks early.

In South Africa, an agreement was reached with one of the largest blueberry nurseries in the world to grow and evaluate varieties emanating from a new blueberry breeding programme across sites in Southern Africa.

In strawberries, a federal judge sours on fight over California strawberries. And a strawberry-picking robotics startup began commercial deployment this month.

In cherries, Canadian cherries moved back into the French market. And in Italy, growers discussed late cherry varieties with high resistance to cracking.

However, due to the aforementioned heatwave, some U.S. growers walked away from blocks of cherries. And in Belgium, a deluge of rain had disastrous consequences for its cherry crop.

July also saw growers bringing forth sustainable packaging ideas including home compostable and recyclable sleeve packaging. Another shipper unveiled its “EcoBox", a moisture resistant, sturdy high-graphic box created with clay coated recyclable paperboard for grapes. And a label manufacturer wondered whether a home compostable label could be developed in time to meet changing regulations.

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