Argentina renews cherry charters from Neuquen to the U.S.
Thanks to support from national and provincial governments, the first charter of the 2016-17 season took off last week from the Juan Domingo Perón Airport in Neuquén.
If all goes to plan the airport may become a hub for all airfreight cherry exports from Argentine Patagonia, according to Vista Alegra SRL partner Carlos Enríquez.
"This is the first airfreight shipment done directly from Neuquén to Miami [this season], where all the fruit that was sent (47 metric tons) was for the U.S. market," Enríquez said.
He said the logistics structure for the cherry industry around Neuquén could work hand in hand with the efforts already made by the Tucumán blueberry industry.
"All the growing orchards in the area are within a radius of 20 to 200km (12-124mi) from the Neuquén airport. This makes it easier for us, economical, and it positions the airport as one that's specialized in transporting fruit, as has been done in Tucuman from where this year more than 70 charter flights took place.
Enríuez highlighted his company was very affected by hailstorms that hit the region in October.
"In October we [at Vista Alegre] had a very bleak outlook. We thought all the fruit was lost, but as the days went on we saw that some had been saved and we could also buy from other growers in the area," he said.
"While the campaign won't have the expected volumes, at least we'll be able to send fruit to be able to meet our trade commitments," he said, adding the initial projections were between 600-800 metric tons (MT), down now to 300MT.
"We are finishing our harvests this week with the variety Sweet Heart. We are a bit earlier than the main growing area in Chile and this also gives us an advantage to be able to use airfreight transport, as in our window the returns are high and that allows us to cushion the freight costs.
The executive clarified that the majority of airfreight exports are sent from Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, but such test shipments from Neuquen to the U.S. could lead to preparations for more infrastructure and logistics services in the local airport.
He said this would be fundamental for the increased volume expected from the provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquén in the coming years.
"We believe that the best way to learn is by doing a small volume and trialing with all the varieties to see how they behave. We are waiting on a signing of the protocol with China and that will test us with large charter flights, and for that we need to be prepared.
Enríquez added flights from Neuquén implied a savings of between 24 and 36 hours in transit time.
"This will allow us to arrive with better quality fruit and simplify operations. Also, Ezeiza is always very congested with all kinds of products, and that also affects us because of the availability of storage rooms."
For this year, growers in the provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquén, and part of the Chubut Valley, estimate production of 4,500MT of which 3,500MT will have been exported once the season is finished very soon.
"Only 100MT would be exported this campaign through the Neuquén Airport as it's a very incipient project and our idea is to have everything ready for when the volume is larger, especially thinking about China and direct flights there.
"Our idea is not to replace Ezeiza, but to complement and speed up shipments depending on the market."