Chile bets on early pomegranate varieties

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Chile bets on early pomegranate varieties

Chilean fruit company Subsole has taken on three Israeli pomegranate varieties in a bid to extend the season, amid growing demand for the product and the opening of new markets.

The Chilean industry is currently dominated by the late-growing Wonderful variety and the fruit is certified for export to the European Union, Russia and the U.S. If pomegranate popularity rises further it could be a good way for Chile to solve its water problems, as the fruit is highly drought resistant.

Subsole managing director Claudio Sarah told the new early varieties Emek and Shani-Yonay, as well as late-growing Kamel would be licensed in a controlled and responsible way.

"It's important to have volumes but in the future. The first thing we're focusing on is quality," says Sarah.

The varieties were developed by Israel's agricultural research institute Vulcani Center, which has undertaken significant genetic improvement efforts for the fruit that is highly consumed in the Middle Eastern region. The center is working with Subsole and Chilean nursery Viverosur in commercializing the varieties in Chile.

Viverosur general manager Alejandro Navarro, says the objective is to safeguard cultivated area for the varieties to achieve good profitability levels for producers.

Shani-Yonay pomegranates

"In this way a new set of pomegranate varieties are generated that enhance the fruit's production under solid criteria, differentiating from the disparities present with the Wonderful variety due to its high genetic variability," he says.

While Subsole is the founding partner for the varieties in Chile, other companies have committed to planting them too such as Dole Chile, Agricola Garcés, Agrícola Plaza Vieja, and more recently berry exporter Valle Maule.

"We're dealing in a long-term initiative that will improve not only the supply but will also consolidate the Chilean presence in international markets, assuring better prices through a transition between the early varieties and the Wonderful as a late fruit," says Subsole president Miguel Allamand.

The three varieties are characterized by their good taste, colorful aril-covered seeds, attractive consistency, and a strong red peel that delivers better protection from the sun in comparison to the Wonderful. Following healthy demand in global markets, plantation area for Emek, Shani-Yonay and Kamel has grown strongly in Israel.

Click here for more information about the specific characteristics of each variety, or browse photos of the new fruit that could take Chile by storm.

Meeting market needs

"The market wants fruit that's early and red, and today the earliest we have is in Copiapó, where we start in March," says Sarah.

The advantage of the three Israeli varieties is that they ripen for harvest between one and two months before the Wonderful, starting with the Emek. This allows for a diverse range of benefits including the arrival of fruit in destination markets during periods of low supply.

From a productive point of view, the new varieties also allow growers to offset the adverse weather conditions in the late summer as pomegranates are very sensitive to rain.

"Like any early fruit the distribution of sizes of the Emek and Shani-Yonay is reduced, and it's maximum potential productivity is lower than the later varieties, except the Kamel which is like the Wonderful," says Subsole agronomist Constanza Hojas.

In terms of export the Wonderful tends to pack an average of 50% categories 1 and 2 export quality, but the Israeli varieties have an export pack rate of around 70%. Subsole expects to have the fruit ready for trade in 2015, with the first plantations to take place this Spring in Vicuña, Ovalle and Copiapó with a starting area of around 40 hectares.

Related stories: Chile pomegranates in U.S. 'trial period'

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