Asian markets warm to Chilean-grown KiwiKiss

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Asian markets warm to Chilean-grown KiwiKiss

In the wake of rains that dampened Chilean fields last month, a busy harvest was taking place around 100 miles south of the capital Santiago in Peumo for a gold kiwifruit that has gained traction in the South American country - the KiwiKiss. Kiwi Kiss1 (2) - edit

Originally developed by New Zealand breeder Don Skelton, the variety - scientifically known as Y374 - has taken to Chilean soil where it can achieve yields of 40,000-45,000kg per hectare.

That is, if vine disease Psa hasn't reared its ugly head.

Francisco Aleman heads up the KiwiKiss program with grower Greenvic S.A., and he tells the fruit has a creamy, sweet taste with brix level reaching as high as 16° at maturity.

Thanks to its much sweeter taste and large size, the cultivar usually fetches much higher prices than the green varieties, and has proven very popular with Asian markets. Aleman says around 90% of the harvest will be sent to South Korea and China.

"South Korea is our best market for KiwiKiss right now. Only a small percentage of the smaller sized fruits will be sent to the United States," he says.

"Although you can see there are a lot of fruits on the tree, unlike other Chinese gold varieties, KiwiKiss sizes very well."

As the exclusive licensee in Chile, Greenvic started its own plantings in 2010 and welcomed the first harvest in 2012. Now the company is growing 120 hectares of KiwiKiss in various parts of Chile, in partnership with 13 parterner growers.

Kiwi Kiss2 (2) - edit 2"This year would be a record year for all gold varieties in Chile. We are looking at 800 [metric] tons (MT) for KiwiKiss.” Aleman says

Greenvic has been shipping limited volumes to China ever since 2012 and interest in the fruit has been growing. But as a demanding market, China prefers a certain type of kiwifruit.

“The Chinese market likes a more elongated shape, and that it’s really gold inside and ‘greener’ outside; they think these kiwifruit look much ‘healthier’.” Aleman says

“They usally ask for a size profile ranging from 25 to 33.”

In fact, he says as the bill on one end of the fruit is quite pronounced, the Kiwi Kiss resembles the New Zealand-bred “Hort16A”; a gold variety that used to be marketed by New Zealand marketer Zespri in China but has faded in volume due to impacts of Psa.

While Aleman's New Zealand competitors have been steadily recovering from the disease on the other side of the Pacific Ocean with the more tolerant variety SunGold, he says Psa is still a huge threat to the Chilean industry with orchardists almost at the mercy of "pure luck" when their fields are contaminated.

"Psa is particularly bad in the south and it’s extending into the northern parts of Chile. We’ve found out that a warmer climate helps to maintain the disease but over the past few years a lot of kiwi orchards all over Chile, being green or gold, have died due to Psa," he says.

“And Chile doesn’t any variety like SunGold that is relatively more resistant. One thing that has proven effective is the use of a plastic cover, but that would cost about 16,000 USD per hectare so it’s a significant cost."

He adds that gold kiwifruit in Chile have long been suffering from the fungus called Verticillium as well, with Hort16A and KiwiKiss among the most vulnerable.

"Gold kiwifruit don’t like the cold. It’s more of a subtropical fruit. Because of that, producers often find production areas that are good for avocados a great fit for gold kiwifruit too.”

Although days of rain last month made small water marks on some of the fruit, Aleman says the impact is “minimal” and he is not worried about any quality effects.

"The rain left some water marks on the fruit but we’d pick out the damaged fruits during our packing process."

And those damaged fruits are exactly what this reporter will be seeking out at the La Vega wholesale market this week. Time for some bargain hunting!

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