Chilean kiwifruit set for export growth, gold recovery in 2018

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Chilean kiwifruit set for export growth, gold recovery in 2018

With the world's leading kiwifruit exporter New Zealand set for a record season this year, the country's main Southern Hemisphere competitor Chile is on track for 3% export growth and a rebound in the production of gold varieties.

Chilean Kiwifruit Committee president Carlos Cruzat tells Fresh Fruit Portal moderate growth is expected this season with a volume of 180,000 metric tons (MT), as well as the first commercial harvest of the Italian-developed cultivar Dori.

The season kick-off has been slightly delayed due to a range of factors, but Cruzat emphasizes the impacts will only be felt for 15-20 days as a large part of the crop is stored for sale throughout the season.

On the harvesting side, later summer crops meant logistical capacities were more tied-up than usual, while new quality parameters have meant producers have left fruit on the vine for longer in order to achieve better levels of dry matter, soluble solids and brix, a measure for sweetness.

"Additionally, during the summer the dry matter was very low. That scared a lot of people and caused a lot of concern, but in March the dry matter increased very well and today it’s at a normal level," he says.

"As the summer was a bit colder than the previous year, the brix has come on faster," he adds.

But a later deal may not be the worst outcome from a trading perspective in light of market developments in the Northern Hemisphere.

"China always has more late fruit with good flavor and it's cheap, so there's not the stimulus that existed a few years ago to try and go very early to reach the Chinese market; there is less space for that," the committee president explains.

"The same thing has happened in Europe – sales have been slower for Italian fruit as they seek to get better prices," he says, adding that Greek production has also been significant and that industry has made use of Italy's storage facilities to also keep product in the market for longer.

Last year the European Union was the leading market for Chilean kiwifruit receiving more than a quarter of the export volume, followed by the United States (14%), China (9%) and Russia (8%).

Overall Cruzat expects fruit sizing to be slightly bigger and this is confirmed by Oscar Villegas of Subsole who estimates sizes of between 30-33, while Carlos Peña of San Clemente has noted there has been a lower percentage of cylindrically-shaped fruit this year. 

The traditional green Hayward variety makes up the majority of Chile's kiwifruit production, and Cruzat says improved production of this mainstay crop has driven the volume increase.

"The reason for this is mainly from green kiwifruit in part which had a very good fertility of buds during winter, and so offered more fruit," he says.

"The other is that in gold varieties last year there was a general reduction in the gold varieties with a significant loss of fruit."

Gold variety development in Chile

He clarifies gold varieties , which are generally more susceptible to diseases like Psa and verticillium than their green counterparts, were down in volume due to weather factors and the withdrawal of orchards.

"The most significant [gold] variety today, which is Jingold (also known as Jintao), is what will grow again and recover production. This is important," he said.

He says that at its height there were 380 hectares of Jingold/Jintao in Chile, but problems with Psa disease have cut that down. While the committee doesn't have official figures of just how significant the reduction has been, he estimates there are now around 250 hectares of the variety.

"The orchards that are there today are orchards where they’ve learned to manage Psa," he says.

He says that historically the second-leading gold kiwifruit variety in planted area is Kiwi Kiss, but it has seen a drastic reduction in recent years.

"Probably of the 200 hectares that were there in one moment, there’d now be the last 30 hectares or something close to that," Cruzat says.

"Probably in the coming years there will be very little because it has problems with establishing orchards.

"What’s left are isolated cases that have special situations that have allowed them to remain's susceptible to not just Psa but verticillium. Both have hit it."

He says the gold kiwifruit Soreli developed by the University of Udine in Italy is also growing in production and planting area.

"Soreli is increasing its surface area to close to 80-90 hectares today - it has not presented a special susceptibility to Psa nor verticillium so probably it’s very resistant," Cruzat says.

"After those three varieties what else is in production today is Dori, from the University of Udine together with the University of Bologna, which is being planted by some businesspeople in big extensions.

"This year there will be the first important harvest of Dori for exports to see how it performs. For this variety there are expectations of significant growth."

He says the fifth variety would be ENZA Gold, owned by New Zealand company T&G Global.

"It hasn't behaved very well in general. The hectares that are there are being taken out," he says.

In summary, he says this year's gold kiwifruit deal from Chile will be marked by a greater supply of Jingold/Jintao, supplemented by Soreli in a small way and a "sampling of Dori that will appear in the market".

"The surface area has been varying, in some cases reducing because of diseases like Psa and verticillium, and in other cases increasing because they are new varieties that are entering to be planted within Chile," he says.

Dealing with Psa

Cruzat says growers are increasingly becoming accustomed to dealing with Psa disease, but this does not diminish the threat and for farmers the fight is far from over.

"What has been more or less clear is that in the case of Hayward, the management that must be done has gone very well so in orchards that are more than 10 years old Psa won’t be a significant problem," he says.

"But it does require permanent prevention management," he says, adding flower loss can be an issue however.

But for gold kiwifruit growers Psa continues to be a much more serious challenge.

"There is double the amount of surface area affected in gold compared to green, because gold in general have shown more susceptibility," he says.

"So growers in this case have to be much more cautious and more concerned about the areas they chose to plant, and much more prolix in the management of farm hygiene, much more than in green.

"There the growers are trying to learn how to manage Psa, but Psa can still win the battle so it’s work where growers are trying using plastic as an alternative, putting nets over orchards so they feel healthier and also applying certain products that are more expensive but have an elicitor effect."

To further explain the effect of these products, he explains that traditional copper sprays only kill bacteria on the foliage and branches in the field environment, however elicitors enter the root system and stimulate its immune defense against attack from disease.

When asked about just how widespread Psa is in Chile, Cruzat explains that while the Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) estimates a level of 35% based in its monitoring efforts, industry technicians tend to estimate a higher figure of around 50%.

The discrepancy, he says, stems from SAG officials monitoring in Psa-free areas and on the border of infected zones.

"From Curicó to the south is almost 60% of the surface area. Not everything is contaminated, but it is very contaminated," he says, adding that to the north there is less production and perhaps only 10% of fields are infected.


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