The production of blueberries arrived in Argentina in the second half of the 1990s, with a view to supplying the world's largest consumer of this berry: North America. The crop boomed in the country until it reached its zenith in 2008, when Argentina exported about 20 million kilos.
The country was making its way behind Chile, which at that time was the leading producer in Latin America. However, things in Argentina got complicated due to the inflation, exchange rate split from 2011, tax schemes, withholdings, etc., and the competition did not stand still. According to INTA figures, between 1995 and 2015, world blueberry production tripled, from 23,600 to 66,400 tons.
"As the world's production developed exponentially, blueberry prices fell," said Alejandro Pannunzio, president of the Argentine Blueberry Committee (ABC). In fact, according to a study prepared by the Directorate of Agricultural Production with data from INDEC, the value of fresh blueberry exports fell from 7,328 to 4,790 dollars per ton between 2010 and 2019.
Thus, what once was profitable to dispatch by plane had to start being shipped by sea to be profitable. This substitution of freight, in turn, required changes in the useful life of the fruit, which now had to be extended, and in the harvest date, which had to be anticipated, which implied new agronomic learning, with high costs associated with the failures. The country went from having 4,650 hectares devoted to blueberries in 2008 to less than 2,700 nowadays, and from exporting 20 million kilos in 2008 to 11 million in 2020.
Domestic market on the rise
As a result of all of this, many players left the business, while those who remained began to refocus their initial export strategy by turning more production to the domestic market. To promote local consumption, the sector launched the # MejorConArandanos campaign five years ago.
However, the challenges remain great. For starters, investment is essential in fruit growing and there is no credit or policies to support the sector in the country.
And that's not all. The blueberries are harvested by hand, one at a time, and packed overnight to avoid the heat. Blueberry production in the NOA and NEA employs more than 20,000 people between harvesting, packing, and permanent employees. "But fruit growing does not have an appropriate work framework," says Pannunzio. “People who receive social benefits do not want to work because they might lose them and they are people with very few resources. We propose that those who receive these benefits keep them when they come to harvest, as they would be temporary personnel,” he stated.