Chile's table grape industry continues to try its hand at new varieties that have proven successful abroad, with white seedless Arra 15 as one of the latest to make its mark on the country's landscape.
Owned by Giumarra Vineyards Corporation subsidiary ARD LLC and developed by Israeli breeder Shachar Karniel, the variety is represented in Chile and South America by Grapasa.
At www.freshfruitportal.com, we caught up with Chilean growers who had taken on the cultivar during a field day last week.
Commercially known as 'Sweeties', the grapes are now in their second harvest in Chile, managed by Grapasa and nursery NuevaVid. Harvests started in the northern Chilean area of Copiapó in the third week of January, and will continue throughout different regions until later this week.
There are currently 500 hectares of the Arra 15 planted in Chile, and in South America there are more than 1,500 hectares.
"There are six table grape genetics programs [in Chile] and this is one of them. I would say it's one of the most important in seedless grapes," said NuevaVid director Jorge Valenzuela.
"There is a tremendous need for new genetics in Chile. For us it is very important for us to participate in these genetics programs because we are absolutely in line with the varietal replacement that is coming and the development of a new fruit industry approach.
"Some 20-25% of traditional varieties should be replaced with varieties from programs," he added, mentioning this would equate to between 10,000-15,000 hectares.
The Arra 15 variety is mainly for the export market, particularly the United States, Europe and Asia; Valenzuela added it had seen particularly good results in South Korea.
Chile mainly competes with South Africa in this variety on the global stage, as well as with fruit from Namibia.
"Demand has been super active, and we believe we'll continue growing rapidly with this variety and other interesting new ones," Valenzuela said.
To see how the cultivar was faring in the field, we spoke with Juan Alessandrini, a grower and owner of the farm Huechún.
"We are content with it. It's gone well with good results in the quality of condition, cargo and production, and we'll see how it performs commercially overseas, which until now has gone well," he said, adding the variety was mainly shipped via seafreight to England and South Korea.
"Last year we sent a small quantity, which was the first we harvested, and this year we expect some 2,500 boxes per hectare over the 14 hectares we have."
He added there had not been any problems with botrytis either in the wake of Chile's unusual rains in the lead up to the season.
The grower said the variety required very little labor or adjustment of the bunches as is the case with Thompson.
Grapasa owner Karl Conrads emphasized the variety was highly fertile and easy to manage.
"There is zero thinning with pruning, the bunches don't need fixing, it has the size Jumbo and greater, ithas great eating quality, it's crunchy and has very good color. It's very early to start producing," Conrads said.
He said prices had been higher this year, in the order of US$4-7 per 8.2kg box, and the company's policy was to limit production for the future to avoid any instances of oversupply.
"With that we ensure our growers have a safe business for the medium term, because being a patented variety, you pay a royalty for all the years that it's a protected variety."