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Uruguay: Blueberries after Bush

Blueberry production in Uruguay increased after president Bush opened the United States to Uruguayan blueberries. In 2009, the country had 800 hectares planted, but the number has declined to almost half by 2014. Pablo Pacheco, from the Mercado Modelo, said Uruguay currently had a smaller harvest but that there were more blueberries for the consumption in Uruguay.

In March 2007, George Bush visited Uruguay and gave a press conference with Tabare Vazquez, from which the possibility of exporting blueberries to the United States emerged. Bush said the blueberries produced in Uruguay were fantastic and wondered if there was any chances that they could be sold to the United States. And so it was.

In 2009, Uruguay had a total of 800 hectares of blueberries, mainly for export. However, the boom did not last long.

"At that time, they expected business to be extremely good, so producers planted a large area. Later, producers realized it wasn't such an easy business, especially for some of the production areas in the country, because the window for good prices was the same time as the earliest fruit," said Pablo Pacheco.

Blueberries are harvested and exported from mid-September to December. The production from the north of the country is more suited to these times. It is also where the larger companies, with bargaining power and export offices, are located.

"It's the window in which it's even reasonable to pay air freights for a high value product," said Pacheco.

"The production in the South, however, started at a time when prices had declined so producers weren't encouraged to pay airfreights. They had to exports their products by boat, which took about twenty days to reach their destination, and of course, prices were then different," stated Pacheco.

Pacheco also said the north had more access to skilled labour than the south. "It's harder because there is more competition with other production sectors and with the construction sector," he said.

That imbalance between north and south led to a decline in the production area, which now amounts to nearly 400 hectares, most of which are in the northern coast.

Blueberries in Uruguay
"In the last two or three years, the product has earned a place in the spring period. There's still not much consumption because it is a high value product with similar characteristics to a cherry, but retailers have realized they should have this product at their fairs, stands, and of course in supermarkets, "said Pacheco.

Blueberries are exported in bulk, in boxes of three or four kilos, but are traded in pouches in Uruguay.

"That container is better for the domestic market because it is a fruit that does not accept much manipulation," said Pacheco. It is a fruit that tends to become soft when it matures and is susceptible to decay, so it requires cold treatment.

This is a limiting factor for the domestic market, as the outlets don't handle the cold chain.

A kilo of blueberries costs between 120 and 170 pesos for manufacturers and can reach up to 300 pesos for the consumer. A pouch costs about 25 pesos. "They are currently at their lowest price possible," Pacheco said.

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