The hail, wind and rain that hit Chile’s central region in mid-November has impacted various horticultural crops, but cherries are undoubtedly among the worst affected, with losses expected to be around US$100 million.
The adverse weather event struck just days before most cherry harvesting activities got underway, further reducing production volume of a crop that was already expected to be around 15 – 20 percent lower than last season.
The Metropolitan and O’Higgins regions bore the brunt of the damage, although the industry is still evaluating exactly what the effect will be on the 2018-19 season.
Jorge Valenzuela, president of the Fruit Producers’ Federation of Chile (Fedefruta), said that cherry production last season had reached its maximum potential due to ideal weather conditions.
“This spring, in contrast, has been very chaotic, volatile, indecipherable in terms of the temperature, and with disasters like the hailstorm that hit a huge amount of production in the red zone that we identified in the O’Higgins region,” he said.
“In cherries alone, we expect a loss of close to US$100 million, and a loss of around 10,000 – 15,000 hours of work per month for this fruit.
“As for the fruit that withstood the damage in the affected areas, and that has faced this very complicated spring, it is evident that the producers have had to do everything possible in terms of agronomic management for the harvest to be of a consistency that allows it to be exported.”
A season full of challenges
In this new scenario for the season, the Fedefruta president said the main challenge of the season will be saving as many cherries as possible that were damaged by the hail.
“There are growers that have spoken of other important events this spring, like the changes in temperature, which also created challenges,” he said.
“Now, in the areas where there was no hail, you can’t stop caring about the quality of the consistency of the cherries,” he said, emphasizing also the need for large-sized fruit.
Analysis of last season’s prices found that returns for cherries smaller than 26mm were not sufficient to cover the costs of production.
“Good cherries receive very good prices; regular cherries very bad ones. There is no middle ground,” he said.