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Latin America prepares itself for new top fruit season

Top fruit estimates: Chile positive, Argentina negative

For Argentina and Chile, the new top fruit season is approaching. However, both countries have completely different prospects for the coming season. While Chile is profiting from the cool winter, which resulted in a good harvest and an increasing export, Argentina experienced a decrease in both area and exports. The country is struggling with economic problems, both nationally and on the most important export markets.

Chilean growth
The Chilean apple cultivators profited from the large number of cool days in winter. Thanks to those days with temperatures of seven degrees Celsius or below, the flowering period started ten days earlier. This is profitable for Chilean companies. Last season had too few cooler days, which disrupted the flowering period, resulting in a ten-day delay of the season.

The 2015/16 area amounted to 36,059 hectares. That is three per cent less than the area a year previously. Cultivators who replace low-yield strains with higher-yield strains or switch to the cultivation of more lucrative fruits, such as cherries, are the cause of the changing area.

Pink Lady planted
The Maule region is by far the most important cultivation region for apples. About 61.2 per cent of the area can be found in this region. O’Higgins is the second region, with about 25.6 per cent of the area. Mainly red apple strains are cultivated in the Latin American country. About 81 per cent of the area consists of these strains, while 19 per cent consists of green strains, almost exclusively Granny Smith. Most of the red strains are Royal Gala and Pink Lady. These strains represent 19.3 per cent and 10.3 per cent of the area, respectively. Scarlett and Red Chief are still major strains, but are no longer being planted.

The area is increased by new strains, which are various Royal Gala clones. These are harvested in February and March. In March and April, the Fuji harvest follows. The harvesting season is closed by Pink Lady, which can be picked in April and May.

Positive pears
Between January and July of this year, the export of apples increased by 16.4 per cent compared to last year. Total export amounted to 595,873 tonnes. The rain in April was bad for the harvest of Fuji and Pink Lady, part of the fruit was damaged. Besides, the rain had consequences on the shelf life of the apples, meaning the fruit had to be quickly exported. Export peaked in May and June, and will probably reach a total volume of 660,000 tonnes this year. Because cultivation circumstances have been good this season, exporters expect exports will amount to 750,000 tonnes. The most important export market is the US.

In recent years, the pear area has increased. That positive trend comes from the good market exporters see for the pears. In 2015/16, the pear area was 8,646 hectares. The largest part of that area, about 55.5 per cent, can be found in the O’Higgins region. Maule follows with a share of 31.7 per cent. Metropolitana is the third largest region, about nine per cent of the area. Together, those regions are good for 96.5 per cent of Chilean pear cultivation. 

The Netherlands largest export market
Packam’s Triumph is cultivated most often. About 35 per cent of the area has been planted with this strain. Abate Fettel is in second place with about 17.9 per cent of the area. Forelle completes the top-three with 12.7 per cent of the area. Coscia and Beurre Bosc have an area of 8.3 and 6.4 per cent, respectively. The area is still being expanded, especially Forelle, Abate Fettel and Coscia are still being planted. Packam’s Triumph’s area remains stable.

It is expected that the volume will recover to 280,000 tonnes this year. The low temperatures during the winter months was positive for the cultivation of pears. Last year, there were hardly any cooler periods, resulting in lower harvests. The Netherlands is the largest importer of Chilean pears with a market share of 18.6 per cent. Colombia follows with a share of 15.5 per cent, then the US with 13.2 per cent, and Italy with 11.6 per cent.

However, export figures show a decrease of 15.7 per cent in value between January and July last season, because of the bad weather circumstances. Volume decreased by 13.1 per cent. During peak export months, March to May, volume was also significantly lower than in the 2014/15 season. It is expected that the export volume for the 2016/17 season will amount to 138.000 tonnes. That would mean volume recovers due to favourable weather during the winter months.

Argentinian decrease
Production figures for the calendar year 2016 have been adjusted downwards for top fruit. The apple harvest amounts to 640,000 tonnes. For pears, it is 580,000 tonnes. Hailstorms in the summer months damaged the fruit. This negatively affected both volume and quality. Furthermore, the harvest started ten to 15 days later due to problems during the flowering period. Because of a decreasing area, the top fruit volume will be 1.5 million tonnes lower than historic levels, in any case.

The 2015 figures have been adjusted slightly upwards, with a volume of 650,000 tonnes of apples and 590,000 tonnes of pears. For that year, the harvest figures also deviated significantly from historic data. This was caused by the crisis experienced by top fruit cultivators, and because of this, many cultivators left the fruit on the trees. The loss was estimated to be 400,000 tonnes, 140,000 tonnes of which was lost as a consequence of hail in October 2014 and the beginning of 2015. The remaining tonnes were left on the trees.

Decreasing area
Almost the entire top fruit cultivation can be found in the Rio Negro region, which has a share of 80 per cent of the area. Second on the list, with 15 per cent, is Neuquen. The remaining five per cent of the area can be mostly found in Valle de Uco in the Mendoza region. In total, the country has about 2,200 cultivators, and the cultivation employs 60,000 labourers in the two main regions. Fifteen years ago, the sector still had about 9,000 cultivators.

It is expected that the area of apples will remain similar at 22,500 hectares this year. The pear area shows a downwards trend, and amounts to 23,500 hectares. In recent years, the top fruit area has been under pressure in Argentina. Because of difficult economic circumstances, the profitability of the sector has decreased in the country. The area is in a downwards spiral because of that as well. That decreasing trend is visible in the largest cultivation areas for top fruit; Alto Valle and Valle Medio, both in the Rio Negro province. In Neuquen and San Juan the area is also under pressure. The orchards in Mendoza are being grubbed up and used for wine growing and other more profitable products.

Economic problems
Small cultivators in Rio Negro and Neuquen are being forced to sell their companies to large cultivation companies. However, if the state of the plantations is very bad, real estate companies might also buy the land. The fruit sector is increasingly in the hands of several large companies.

The expected export of apples is at 105,000 tonnes for 2016, 25,000 tonnes less than official estimates, and the result of a lower production. Pear export amounts to 330,000 tonnes, an increase of 20,000 tonnes compared with earlier expectations, and in line with last year. Export remains stable, but below historic values. That is the result of the difficult economic circumstances on the main export markets: Brazil and Russia. Furthermore, Brazil has limited imports through additional phytosanitary measures.

New markets
Last year, the apple export was lower than estimates, which mentioned 120,000 tonnes. Official figures have been adjusted at 106,000 tonnes. The bad competitive position and the economic problems on export markets were the cause of that. Pear export was slightly higher, at 333,000 tonnes. The position of the Latin American country on the pear market is stronger than that of apples.

Argentina exports its apples and pears to about 60 markets. Last year, Brazil, Russia and the EU were the main markets. Brazil has been a good market for pears especially during the second half of the year. In March 2015, the Brazilian government closed its borders for the apples and pears because phytosanitary excesses were found. This was followed by inspections in the main cultivation areas in Argentina, and in June, the market for top fruit opened again. However, the formulated protocol is inconvenient for export. According to estimates, the sector lost 50 million dollar because of this situation.

The export of apples was 26 per cent lower. For pears it was 18.5 per cent lower compared to 2014. The devaluation of the currencies on the main export markets and the persistent deterioration of the competitive position of the sector are the most important reasons. Argentinian exporters were unable to profit from the boycott of European products to Russia. By contrast, the American market showed promise for the apples and pears. India recently opened its borders for Argentinian apples and pears, but export to that market is still slow. Furthermore, China has performed inspections of the cultivation areas and has subsequently opened its borders to Argentinian top fruit.
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