Although the vast majority of Chilean cherries are grown in the country's central valley, a burgeoning industry in the far south has been growing, driven by the higher prices that can be achieved by harvesting fruit just as most producers are wrapping up their seasons.
Patagonia-based Austral Cherries - located some 2,000km from the capital Santiago - is growing varieties Sweetheart, Lapins, Kordia y Regina and harvests at some of the latest periods in the Southern Hemisphere season.
The company has two orchards - one in Chile Chico, where fruit is harvested in January, and another near to Coyhaique in the Aysén region, where harvests begin in February.
Chile’s weekly export volumes typically see a marked drop in January as the season approaches its end.
Javier Cereceda of Australia Cherries told Fresh Fruit Portal that this year the company expects to produce 350 metric tons (MT) of cherries, which will mainly be exported to China and South Korea.
“[Here] you can produce cherries is very high quality at a time when there is a unique window in the market because there is no fruit available anywhere in the world,” he said.
Cereceda said that by harvesting cherries in the January-February period, the company can enter into a "totally undersupplied" market
He added that growing conditions in Patagonia were excellent for cherry production.
“We have abundant winter cold, we have temperatures during the vegetative period that rarely exceed 25ºC, and so in contrast to Chile’s central valley, the plants don’t suffer heat stress,” he said.
“When the trees are exposed to temperatures above 28ºC, a mechanism that stops them from dehydrating simply stops working, and here it works perfectly. That means that the cherries have higher dry matter, so they are more firm and have a great taste.”
Chilean Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker recently visited the region to learn more about late-season cherry production.
“It is impressive to see first-hand what they are doing in Chile Chico and the Aysén region in the fruit industry," he said.
Cherry Exports from the Aysén region began in 2007 with around 515 kilograms certified for export. Currently, the region is producing almost 1,000MT annually. There are about 206 hectares planted of cherry trees in Aysen and 190 in Chile Chico.