Size profile may boost 2017 Chilean apple deal, says Fedefruta head
Chile's apple industry is gearing up for a season that looks set to see higher levels of production and smaller-sized fruit, but a head of grower body Fedefruta is upbeat about prospects in the country's biggest export market.
Speaking to Fresh Fruit Portal, Fedefruta director Antonio Walker said the harvests of the early varieties were just getting underway in the central regions of O'Higgins and Maule.
He estimated volumes could rise by around 5% year-on-year.
But the high levels of production anda hot summer in the South American country are throwing up some potential problems for exporters.
"I think the sizing is smaller than last year. This is because it was a year of high floration and high productivity," he said.
He explained many apple producers also grew cherries, which were harvested around 12 days earlier than normal this season, resulting in the disruption of thinning activities on the apple trees.
Another challenge this campaign is the high temperatures experienced in growing regions over recent months. The country has experienced a particularly hot and dry summer, which has led to severe forest fires in numerous south-central areas.
According to Antonio Walker, coloring on Gala - one of the earlier varieties and the most abundant in Chile - has left a lot to be desired.
"This is because we have not had a break in temperatures. In the night we have had temperatures of 15-16ºC, which is very high. We need 8-10°C for the apples to color well," he said.
He added it was yet to be seen how later varieties like Red Delicious, Fuji and Cripps Pink would color, but in general growers would have to work hard to produce a good crop.
But Walker said that luck was on the apple industry's side in terms of exports to the U.S., which last year received 16% of shipments.
"Luckily the United States had a crop of large apples, and so they are looking for the smaller sizes," he said, also explaining that lower coloration would not be a major issue as long as the fruit was firm.
"An apple with little color and low pressure can be a disaster. If we have low color, we must harvest firm apples, because there are many commercial programs in which you can sell apples with less color providing that the fruit is firm," he said.
While Latin America and Europe were traditionally the biggest markets for Chilean apple shippers, Walker said commercial programs in the U.S. had increased greatly over recent years.
According to figures from the Office of Agricultural Research and Policy (ODEPA), apple exports from January through August rose 21% year-on-year to 673,219 metric tons (MT), and shipments to the U.S. rose by 35% year-on-year to 104,935MT.
In total the U.S. received 16% of Chilean apple exports, and no other country received more than 10%.
Walker said that in the future the industry would like to boost exports to Asia, where competitor New Zealand is a major player.
"The big challenge is to conquer Asia. China, which is heavily supplied by New Zealand with very sweet varieties like Envy. We have to produce sweet varieties that the Chinese will like," he said.
He also mentioned India as another destination Chilean shippers could use to further diversify their markets.