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Moldova special: plum and grape cultivation company, Ceteronis

High transport rates hinder fruit export

The fruit cultivation company, Ceteronis, which was founded in 2000, combines no fewer than nine kolkhoz* fields, totaling over 4,000 hectares. A third of the acreage consists of vineyards and a tenth of fruit tree orchards. Besides grapes, plums occupy a prominent place on the Ceteronis' farms. "But, this year, the drought wiped out almost that entire crop. Last year we harvested 4,000 tons; this year, we'll have to settle for 900 tons," says commercial director Marcel Bobeica.

Last year, Ceteronis loaded 120 trucks of plums to sell overseas; 90 of those were destined for the EU market. Stanley plums enter the market when Western Europe and the Balkans run out. Aside from their excellent flavor, these Moldovan plums also have the advantage of entering an empty market. Neighboring Romania is an important customer. Almost all retailers in that country receive direct deliveries of not only plums but other fruits like apples and peaches too.

Fruits appreciated by the East and West. Skyrocketing transportation costs to FSU and EU countries
Whilst most of the fruits this farm produces go to supermarket chains in Belarus, an increasing volume since 2018 is being exported to the EU: Germany, France, Holland, Croatia, Belgium, etc. Due to careful attention to field treatments, a focus on quality, and the implementation of the Global Gap and Grasp systems, the company has succeeded in enlarging its exports to the EU countries.
However, this year the transportation costs to the EU have almost doubled.

Likewise, the transportation costs to the Belarusian market have been skyrocketing. Last year, it cost €2,000 for a truck to travel to Belarus; earlier this season, that price shot up to €11,000. That rate has now dropped to €5,000, which is still very high. Yet, the biggest problem is the long transit time. Delays at the Ukraine/Belarus border mean the trip now takes seven instead of the usual two to three days.

Good cherry varieties, but sorting technology still lacking
With cherries, Ceteronis has a good variety in Regina for exporting to Western Europe. "We have beautiful, dark cherries, and the variety transports well. The problem is that we package several different calibers together because we don't have the necessary sorting lines. We do have a hydro cooler. A fellow cherry grower is in the opposite situation: he can't pre-cool the cherries but can sort them nicely. Talks are underway to house both technologies in one place so that we can both deliver cherries in perfect conditions to Western Europe. But, we haven't yet agreed on the exact location," says Marcel.

More cooperation in the form of cooperatives would benefit Moldova growers greatly, especially regarding post-harvest treatment, and it would increase export opportunities.

Moldovan grapes resist extreme cold well
In terms of variety renewal, Moldovan growers still have work to do, especially now that the Russian market is closed and the markets are in a state of constant change and adaptation. "We've converted almost our entire cherry and apricot plots to new varieties. With grapes, however, it's not as easy to plant new varieties. The Moldova variety, which makes up 90% of our grape acreage, is very resistant to frost, which is a huge advantage over many other varieties."

"We sometimes see temperatures as low as -20 ºC here. Many plants cannot handle that. But, the Moldovan grapes are a black, robust variety. They're quite sweet, can be exported well into December, and can be kept in cold storage until April. We also have Codreanca grapes, better known as Black Magic. We market the grapes mainly in Romania, Belarus, Poland, and Croatia. Western European consumers prefer seedless grapes," explains the commercial director.

Focus on cardboard
Ceteronis plans to invest in a cardboard packing line for stone fruit in the near future. At present, it packages the fruit in wooden crates, which are unsuitable for the European market. Plums are currently exported in cartons, but that packaging material is imported. To reduce costs, this Moldovan company must look toward its own production line.

"Besides the proper cooling and sorting options, the Moldovan fruit sector must focus on offering the correct packaging. Here, cardboard is important, as are reusable plastic crates. Flowpack is less and less in demand because not every grower has the necessary certifications, and once flow-packed, products cannot be checked at their destination."

A view to Western Europe
Moldova fruit exports face, not only post-harvest treatment and packaging challenges, limited access to financial tools is another huge obstacle.

"Here in Moldova, we cannot insure our cargoes. One option is to open a branch in Romania and get insurance there. Not everything is going smoothly, but we're sure that, in the coming years, we can continue delivering quality products and win a spot on the Western European market. It all comes down to choosing the right varieties, maintaining our cultivation and cold stage quality standards, and moving forward in sorting and packaging," Marcel concludes.

Ceteronis is a fruit cultivation company with plots and packaging facilities at various locations in Moldova. It is headquartered in the country's south, near the Romanian border. Besides small acreages of Golden Delicious apples (15 ha), Xenia pears (26 ha), and nectarines (15 ha), the company also grows Regina, Kordia, and Bigarreau Burlat cherries (85 ha). However, it focuses on Stanley plums (330 ha, production capacity of 4,200 tons) and Moldova and Magic Black grapes (545 ha, production capacity of 5,300 tons).

The company is GlobalGAP, GRASP, and ISO 22000 certified and exports to 12 countries, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and several countries in Eastern and Western Europe.

Click here to take a virtual tour of Ceteronis.

* large collective Soviet Union-era farms, characterized by a combination of communal and personal property and usage rights.

For more information:
Marcel Bobeica and Davidescu Elena
Costangalia (Cantemir) - Moldavië
Tel: +373 769 90 08 59
Mob: +373 60 090 888 

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