Chile goes gourmet with truffle project
Chilean growers and entrepreneurs are looking to new niches beyond fresh produce and wine, targeting the gourmet world with the black truffle, which can fetch up to US$ 1,500 per kilogram internationally.
Sixty hectares of black truffle have been planted thanks to a project of the government’s foundation of agricultural innovation (FIA), which aims to establish the refined mushroom in Chile. The project aims to finish 2010 with a total of 150 hectares in production.
The project, financed by the Agricultural Ministry through the FIA, shows that it is possible to produce truffles in Chile.
The company behind the growing is Agrobiotruf, which has developed methods to allow the cultivation and aims to generate a truffle-growing culture in Chile, marking a new production focus for South America in general.
Like other fresh products out of Chile, the project aims for a counter-season offer of truffles for high-end consumers in the Northern Hemisphere. Today’s current production centers around France, which according to Agrobiotruf, holds some 70% of the market.
The growing demand for the mushroom, which far surpasses supply, pushes its price high in international markets. China and Japan pay top dollar, and prices can reach US $1,500 per kilogram.
The mushroom has relatively low costs of production. The truffle is grown at the base of trees underground and needs little intervention or treatment for pesticides. Agrobiotruf estimates production costs at around US $1,200 per hectare per year, after an initial start up cost of US $14,200 per hectare.
Moreover, through several years of studies and experiments, Agrobiotruf has been able to harvest commercially viable truffles in only five years, whereas European production normally gets results between 7 to 10 years.
Chile’s harvest season runs between June and August, which would mean a summer offer of truffles for the Northern Hemisphere.
By 2015 the company hopes to grow truffle harvest yield to 1 ton. The mushroom has been planted on an experimental basis since 2003 and in 2009 had its first commercial harvest.
The total investment for the research and investment will total 462 million Chilean pesos (US $960,200) by 2011, CLP 243 million through FIA support and the rest from Agrobiotruf and owners of growing lots.