Changes at play for Argentine and Uruguayan blueberries

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Changes at play for Argentine and Uruguayan blueberries

The Argentine and Uruguayan blueberry industries are looking to new varieties to overcome market and production challenges, representatives told an international blueberry forum in Chile this week.

Argentinean Blueberry Committee (ABC) general manager Inés Peláez said the industry was looking for earlier varieties in the key regions of Tucumán and Concordia.

"Argentina has already shown itself as a reliable supplier to the Northern Hemisphere, but its work must continue," she told the Chilean International Blueberry Seminar, organized by Asoex.

She said the industry faced challenges with competitiveness, due to high production costs and goverment policies that did not favor the sector, including a lack of free trade agreements, refunds, rebates and deductions.

Upefruy president Horacio Ozer told the seminar the Uruguayan industry was leaning towards varieties with better post harvest characteristics, flavor, firmness and appearance.

He highlighted the country's industry was different to its Argentine and Chilean counterparts as 94% of the volume comes from grower-exporter companies, with two exporters accounting for 60% of production, while the top four businesses make up 75% of volume.

Markets and production

Argentina's blueberry exports rose 3.2% year-on-year to 15,800 metric tons (MT) in 2011-12, with the U.S. making up 61% of purchases. The U.K. was the second-largest destination at 18%, followed by continental Europe (12%), Canada (6%) and Asia (3%).

The country's frozen blueberry exports rose by 6% year-on-year during the period to 3,700MT, which is 160% higher than the volume registered in 2009-10.

Argentina currently has 1,250ha dedicated to the crop in Tucumán, 975ha in Concordia and 600ha in the Buenos Aires province, which is witnessing a shift towards processing.

Argentine land for the crop is significantly higher than the surface area for blueberries in Uruguay, which stands at 450ha in the zones of Paysandú and Salto.

Ozer said continental Europe purchased 44% of Uruguay's blueberry exports, followed by the U.S. at (32%), the U.K. (15%), Canada (5%) and Asia (4%).

He pointed out this is a significant change from 2009 when the U.S. bought 60% of Uruguay's blueberry exports.

"The increased incidence in Europe as a destination will continue due to its logistical advantages," he said.

Solving Argentina's 'critical state'

Peláez said Argentina's current economic situation would not allow for sustained blueberry industry growth in the short and medium term, which meant finding a solution soon was key.

A group of Argentine blueberry organizations, including the ABC, the Argentine Chamber of Producers of Blueberries and Other Berries (CAPAB), the Tucumán Blueberry Producers Association (APRATUC) and the Argentinean Blueberry Growers of Mesopotamia (APAMA), have set the goal of demonstrating the 'critical state' of the industry to the national government.

Peláez said the group intended on highlighting issues such as the non-payment of refunds and delayed VAT (value added tax) refunds to the government through a proposal, which aims to eliminate export duties and increase the speed of refund returns.

She said higher production costs due to currency issues meant tools were needed to make the industry more competitive, and as a solution to underfunding and the 'systematic abandonment' of plantations in Buenos Aires and Concordia.

Another issue discussed was the associated logistics of air freight that are not meeting growers' needs.

"Due to the seasonality of production it means the rates are pushing upward even when the price of oil remains stable," said Peláez.

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