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Chile: Innovations key to improving the apple's competitiveness

What are the challenges for Chile's apple production? According to Oscar Carrasco, of Pomanova, the first is the unfriendly weather in the productive areas; frosts, spring rains, and high summer temperatures.

Another problem is ageing orchards, because there's been a lack of conversion in recent years. This has led to low densities and lower percentages of packaged high quality apple varieties. "Only 25 to 30% of the Gala variety packaged is Premium or Extra-Fancy," he said.

Another important factor is the cost of labor, which accounts for 60% of the costs in fruit production, while it only accounts for 20% in the mining sector.

Additionally, the expert said, producers must consider the overproduction in the northern hemisphere and the fruit quality obtained by New Zealand, one of their competitors, as factors that determine how the Chilean apple campaign will succeed internationally.

That's why Carrasco announced, at the 2016 PMA, the innovations at the technical level that apple producers had to follow to improve the sector's competitiveness:
  • Intensive gardens: having higher densities of plantings and using controlled rootstocks that are resistant to woolly aphid.
  • Conversion of orchards: using with new selections of Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady or Club varieties.
  • Simple, high efficiency driving systems, that intercept and distribute the light in the tree, to achieve a greater precocity and productivity in pruning, thinning and harvesting.
  • Improving the quality of nursery plants (health, uniformity) and achieving a greater selection of propagating material (clones with better color).
  • Protection systems against frost, hail, sunstroke, reflective film.
  • Chemical thinning technology.
  • Varieties that are adapted to the country (resistant to the sun and that develop color better).
  • Incorporating more and more mechanization of work (pruning, harvesting, thinning), adapted to different garden sizes.

Analysis and Forecast 
According to Carrasco, the country produced 1,635,000 tons during the last season, 44.5% of which were exported (728.000 tons), surpassing the 635,000 tons that were shipped in 2015.

Last season, Carrasco said, the weather conditions were very good for the color development in the Gala variety (which accounts for almost half of the 35,000 hectares of apples planted in Chile), but not very favorable for the Fuji and Pink Lady varieties.

In the upcoming season, Carrasco said, there should be an upward trend in production of the Gala and Pink Lady varieties, while the Fuji would remain at similar volumes, and the Red Delicious and Granny Smith production continues to decrease.

Carrasco's analysis, which also covers a list of innovations that should be considered from different standpoints (commercial, labor, administrative, cost) can be found in this link, and in Fedefruta's website's documents section.

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