Chile pursues more competitive raspberries
Chile's Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) and Universidad Católica have been working for four years to improve raspberry genetics in search of alternative varieties better fit for climate and soil adaptation.
In an exclusive interview with www.freshfruitportal.com, Dr. José Patricio San Martín of INIA's Berry Technology Center commented on the need to create new varieties and the social value such cultivars have for family farmers.
Chile is the main raspberry producer in the Southern Hemisphere and ranks third worldwide. 80% of Chilean production comes from the VII (Maule) Region, one of the poorest zones in the country, San Martín said.
"The Maule Region is not an area with great resources, as production is mostly run by small farmers. Within the 13,000 hectares dedicated to this crop, there are 16,000 producers and that means that each one has a very small space of approximately half an acre," he said.
"Many small farmers depend on the crop because it generates family income. Since this is a crop that requires a lot of manual labor, big companies cannot work on large terrains because on average, you need 30 people per hectare and the cost is very high. There are big producers, but they're a minority."
From total raspberry production, between 80% and 90% are exported frozen due to the long distance to foreign markets. 80% go to North America and the rest to Europe.
According to San Martín, however, the price for frozen raspberries can be very unstable, which affects profitability. The price for fresh raspberries is more stable and the product is more in demand.
The demand for fresh fruit has sparked the need for new varieties that can undergo export without experiencing great damage.
The expert commented that the need to invest in research and development reaches back a decade and a half. It came as a result of breed patenting that forced producers to create their own varieties to avoid license fees.
"For the past eight years, the state has tended to provide funds for genetic development, whether it be for stone fruits, cherries, peaches, apples, grapes, kiwifruit, etc. The idea is to make Chilean agriculture more competitive and generating our own varieties helps us achieve that," he said.
In his opinion, dependence on foreign varieties would make Chile less competitive, which has motivated government investment.
"Meeker is the best frozen variety, but it doesn't grow well in the most productive raspberry zone because it needs low temperatures. This is why we need to create a variety fit for the Maule climate and improve our frozen raspberry production."
In respect to the currently used variety, San Martín said that it is out dated and does not fulfill the quality standards required on today's market.
"In zones like the Metropolitan, Maule and Bio Bio regions, Heritage is mostly cultivated, which is a variety from the 60s and is perfect for the area. However, it's a standard variety, mid-sized, with medium flavor, medium aroma, mid-range possibility in freezing. But it has the grace of being a rustic variety, 'dog meat,' that adapts well in agricultural systems lacking technology."
The researcher also added that attempts were made to introduce the Tulameen variety, which has the exact size, flavor and quality. Producers, however, had problems because it was very delicate and prone to disease.
The program is currently working on developing 25 varieties and each one is growing the genetic bank where varieties are crossbred for future selection.
"We need to produce a better quality variety for this area, as with Meeker and Tulameen, but with the rusticity of the Heritage. The idea in the mid and long run is to have varieties that adapt to the Chilean reality. The majority of varieties come from different soil, different climates and are generally continental, while we are more Mediterranean," San Martín said.
"The ideal is for the fruit to have a good size, aroma and flavor. It should be resistant to the most significant diseases and it has to be firm, with good texture, in a way that this fruit will hopefully be useful fresh with resistance to storage and travel."
With respect to the industry, San Martín said this type of cultivar should take priority. It fills a social function, he explained, because it involves a large percentage of small farmers and is a high quality product with growing international demand.