Managing Chile's hazelnut boom
Chile's 2011 hazelnut exports may only be less than 1% of world leader Turkey's total annual production, but the South American country is looking to find opportunities with the crop in global markets. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with Grupo Hijuelas general manager Gaspar Goycoolea about the 'explosive growth' the industry is going through, and the challenges that come with it.
Last calendar year Chilean hazelnut export values grew 146% year-on-year to US$16.6 million, while volumes jumped by 127% to 5,109 metric tons (MT), according to the country's Office of Agriculture Studies and Policy (ODEPA).
The vast majority of these exports are with in-shell hazelnuts with volumes that have increased 34-fold since 2004, while values have risen 48-fold over that time. To put this growth into perspective, the 2012 season has barely started but has already surpassed the total figure for 2007.
Goycoolea says this strong growth does not come without its challenges but Chile is in a very good position.
"Chile has excellent conditions for developing hazelnuts and could become the main producer in the Southern Hemisphere, becoming a relevant global player in the coming decades," he tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
Grupo Hijuelas owns Viveros Nefuen (Nefuen Nurseries), which currently licenses Oregon State University-developed variety Osu.
Goycoolea adds that with 13,000 planted hectares Chile's hazelnut industry is growing in leaps and bounds, but the crop requires care and there may be a percentage of growers who will have serious problems in the future.
"When they enter a stage of maturity and this generates a bigger supply with lower prices, they will be outside what is profitable.
He emphasizes the industry needs planning with appropriate levels of investment, which means it is necessary to evaluate various aspects such as productive zones, the quality of plants and varieties, irrigation infrastructure, and mitigation measures to avoid certain pests and diseases; namely curculeonidos, xanthomonas and pseudomonas.
"We must face this specie professionally and remove the myths that it is a crop that grows alone, that can work without irrigation in some zones of Chile like forest species. With this mentality a future failure is assured."
Technical considerations to avoid 'failure'
The general manager highlights growers need to take into account that hazelnuts are not self-compatible and need cross-pollination to grow.
"Hazelnut pollination is very specific in terms of the compatibility of their alleles, and clonal plants are required to ensure fruit set in order to have a profitable harvest.
"This factor has not been considered by a number of plantations made to date, in which we find a very low production level."
He adds a maximum temperature of 21ºC is necessary during the time the fruit is forming in December, which limits productive areas.
"This implies that before planting it is necessary to check if you have this requirement. You have to professionalize the areas suitable crop varieties with compatible packages, good soils, infrastructure, etcetera, and in that way be able to determine yields per tree and per hectare, fruit quality, costs per hectare, and the way to control the number of possible variables that affect the final outcome of the project."