Peruvian blueberry growth 'not just about supply windows'

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Peruvian blueberry growth 'not just about supply windows'

The Peruvian blueberry industry is entering an important period of change that is generating high expectations. Capacity for processing the crop, distribution channels and the ability to overcome labor challenges will be key for whether these hopes are met. At we speak with Terra Business general manager Federico Beltrán about the trials and errors the sector has witnessed, and the significance of Peru's accession to international plant variety intellectual property accord UPOV 91.

Beltrán says blueberries started slowly in Peru for the last five years but have passed two important milestones of development - the pioneering phase and the signing of UPOV which gives the country access to better varieties.

"It began with little credibility on the part of the private sector. In fact, the last five years have been more a validation and promotion of business, an effort led by pioneer entrepreneurs and a state program," he says.

"Today in 2012 the business is being mainly developed by companies already in the agri-export business with other crops and this is the start of a new stage. We are at a point of change and this gives us a lot of expectation in terms of the development of supply that could be reached.

"[Before] We couldn't access new genetics because we weren't subscribed to UPOV."

He says blueberries have emerged as a great alternative for making the most of a year-round workforce that is becoming increasingly scarce.

"Chile has 30 years in blueberries; Argentina and Uruguay, 15;  Mexico, 10 years, and we just have five years that were very cold, however three million plants have been sowed.

"Now the expectation is much higher because people are much more grounded than before."

Peru has a wide range of productive areas with potential for blueberries including coastal areas and inter-Andean valleys.

"In these areas Peru will be able to complement the supply of products that already have a certain presence in international markets - these types of valleys represent 100,000 hectares for Peru.

"In these areas products will be produced that will prosper just as much as on the coast, and blueberries are one example."

He says Peru will not compete with Chile in the short term.

"I think one of the biggest lessons has been for Peruvian companies is that you have to go slowly, that a lot of money could be lost here. Fortunately there are already experiences that are good, regular and bad.

"There is a lot of speculation over land values," he adds, highlighting Peru is experiencing the same problems as neighboring Chile with labor shortages, input costs and a lack of water. In addressing the former, he emphasizes the blueberry industry will help the fruit industry retain its labor force.

Projections and expectations for blueberry operations are based on a lot, being an alternative for keeping a workforce the whole year and also for making the most of the distribution channels already in place.

"The famous September-October window excites us but what I find good about the companies that are entering this business is that they understand this window could be taken on by other competitors, thus the only option is to improve global competitiveness.

He says it's important to point out companies are not growing blueberries for the sake of monoculture, but to build a portfolio of products for the global marketplace. He says the Chilean business model has paved the way for making the most of supply windows available to Southern Hemisphere growers.

"Their business models have been key so that the world now knows that quality blueberries come from the Southern Hemisphere.

"We need world-class companies in Peru get into this business. This will give viability to medium and small businesses."

He says most of the blueberries planted in Peru have been free varieties to test what is possible and what is not.

"We began to experiment with what we had and the results filled us with enthusiasm."

Despite the optimism, the manager says the industry still needs to get over its lack of technical knowledge of the crop, limited logistics and the fact Peru doesn't yet have the genetic material for blueberries on a large scale.

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