Rains deal heavy blow to Chilean cherries
Following about 50 millimeters of rainfall in Chile's south-central zone, Fedefruta expects shipments of around 10 million boxes for the season.
A release from the union said the adverse weather had affected about 10-20% of production in the VI (O'Higgins) region, while in the VII (Maule) and VIII (Biobio) regions, damages would range between 25-80%.
Fedefruta president Cristián Allendes lamented the situation.
"It was a season in which producers had very high expectations. A growth of around 10% on the previous season was estimated, equivalent to 16 million export cartons, however, weather conditions led to serious damages and meant estimates for this season fell to 10 million cartons," he said.
Grower Antonio Walker told www.freshfruitportal.com that problems with cold hours had already reduced national export estimates from 16 million boxes down to 11 million boxes prior to the rain. Like Allendes, he doubted even that figure would be reached.
"The issue is very serious because I am now here in a few orchards, we are seeing the effects of rains, and they are very bad," he said.
"In the VI yesterday (Dec. 18) 10% of the fruit was left, and the front affected us very strongly from the VII to the south.
"We have carried out 50% of our harvest and the effect that we are seeing now - because the front continues - is that from what we've measured on our orchards, there is very significant splitting, it's really serious."
He said the impacts would be that of the 50% of the fruit left in the VII region, only 30-40% would be left on the trees.
In a release, Agrícola Garcés president Hernán Garcés said wet conditions stretched from the mountainous area of San Fernando to the south, with a lot more cherries still to be picked.
"We estimate that in these areas there two million boxes left to harvest, of which 50-60% could be affected," he said.
A representative from Exportadora La Purísima Ltda, with production in the VI and VII regions from Rancagua to Rio Clario, said the company was taking all necessary measures for controlled production, reducing new losses to almost zero after the rains.
The exporter expects a 50% loss due to weather issues, also taking into account the lack of cold hours that impacts the plants from flowering through to harvest.
Crown Jewels Produce South America director Bill Lewis told www.freshfruitportal.com the fruit was "the number one factor for concern" in light of the recent wet weather.
"They’ve been hit by the weather repeatedly and obviously they are naturally susceptible to the weather," he said.
"The rains have meant many growers have lost 30-40% of their production, and I think with the rains this week it could end up being 50% of the total production projected at the beginning of the season."
He said grapes probably wouldn’t be very affected, although there may be botrytis impacts, however U.S. demand for the fruit was “astounding” and the fruit that was shipped would move well in a seller’s market.
As for blueberries, Lewis didn’t believe the crop would be too damaged.
"There were the early weather problems that impacted the crop but that was really mostly going to processing anyway.
"In the Central Valley I can’t see it doing more than slowing the harvest by a few days and the rain won't have a significant impact on the fruit."
Natural Resource Research Center (CIREN) agriculture and weather specialist Rodrigo Cazanga told www.freshfruitportal.com the weather conditions were a result of El Niño and despite the recent rainfall, the average millimeters for the year were normal.
However, Cazanga emphasized the timing was not ideal for the harvest of cherries or blueberries.
"What is happening in terms of the weather is that the year is approaching normal conditions, which is not the most optimal in terms of the agricultural production of fruits that are harvested at this time," he said.
"For farmers, conditions of dry weather in spring were very suitable for harvest and fruit quality, and with the lack of moisture or liquid water on the surface of the fruit, there wasn't parting or the accelerated development of fungi, but these were abnormal weather conditions.
"What you're going to have to do now is to increase the number of fungicide applications and try to better manage auspicious moments for harvesting."
Cazanga concluded fruit quality would likely be affected due to the effects of disease or splitting.
Walker said the Sweet Heart cherry variety has been badly affected, while the Regina variety had held up well; however, there are still very few plantings of the latter.
He highlighted that Chile was very professional in how it shipped its fruit with quality assured.
"We will make all the efforts possible to be responsible in applying the corresponding fungicides, choosing fruit, and what we do export has to be of good quality so that there are no repurcussions on prices."