Q&A: discovering Patagonia's fruit industry promise

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Q&A: discovering Patagonia's fruit industry promise

Despite its location in a country renowned for its expertise in the fruit industry, Chile's pristine Patagonia region has been underutilized for the cultivation of counterseasonal horticultural crops. This may be about to change, with Chilean fruit union Fedefruta organizing a meeting this month in the city of Aysén to discuss the opportunities ahead. At www.freshfruitportal.com we catch up with Fedefruta president Antonio Walker, who says Patagonia is Chile's comparative advantage.

What business opportunities exist for the fruit industry in Patagonia that are not being capitalized at the moment?

Fedefruta president Antonio Walker

In this region there is tremendous fruit industry potential. We can see that in the same latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere there are fruit industries that are modern, profitable and vigorous, so we ask, 'why not in Aysén?' To discover the fruit growing ability it has, Fedefruta is organizing a regional meeting on May 10-11, when we will take inputs to the region to determine what can be planted, since we believe Patagonia sells itself. Fruit from Patagonia can leave from its own ports, and with all the phytosanitary advantages it could be a win-win situation.

Why do you think these advances haven't happened up until now?

A lot of the time we think that fruit farms should be developed between Copiapó and La Araucanía, however climate change has allowed for the southern zone to adapt better each day to fruit cultivation. There is also a mentality that exists - we see that Paris or New Zealand's South Island are at similar latitudes to Aysén, and they have developed fruit industries a lot.

On the other hand, there has been an abundance of soil, (good) weather and water in the central zone, leading to the idea that it's easier to develop fruit farming in this part of the country, but the value of the soil today that they have in the central zone and their water problems, Aysén has transformed into a tremendous opportunity.

How does Fedefruta view Patagonia's fruit industry projections and prospects?

We believe that in addition to cherries, we could explore with pome fruit, especially apples. We are looking at new apple varieties that could better adapt to the southern zone of the country than the northern part, such as for example, Honey Crisp, Sweet Tango and Ambrosia. There is also hazelnuts, berries and dried fruits. The Fedefruta meeting will allow Patagonia's aptitude to be discovered, and for us to see how we can diversify the zone's export matrix.

What are the current fruit production volumes in Patagonia and with what species?

According to official figures, 270 metric tons (MT) were exported to Europe and Asia this year, which reflects remarkable progress in physical sales from Patagonia. During the 2009-10 season, 12,500kg (27,500lbs), it was 62,000kg (136,400lbs) in the 2010-12 period, and last year we reached 101,400kg (223,080lbs) of exported cherries.

What part does Patagonia play in the Chilean Agrifood Project?

It is fundamental. The comparative advantage that Chile has is Patagonia. Patagonia has colors, it has magic, it is synonymous with safety, respect for the environment; so, fruit from Patagonia could be consolidated as a great brand and have its own logistics. In addition, this zone has gained increasing relevance in fruit production, allowing it to supply important markets like Europe and Asia.

What are the challenges for fruit farmers in Patagonia, considering it is in such an extreme location?

The first challenge is studying the zone and discovering its aptitude to determine species and varieties. Once this is identified, we have to define what is grown - what we can and what we cannot grow. Patagonia has the soil and climate, and presents more opportunities than challenges. There are issues like wind and frosts, but there are alternatives to overcome these.

The meeting in Aysén will take place at 9am in the Rancho Viejo Event Room, on José Miguel Carrera 361. Parties wishing to participate should contact regionales@fedefruta.cl.


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