Argentine blueberries: Country will be "niche" player in future, says industry body
Argentina will likely become a "niche" player in the blueberry industry, as volumes from Peru grow at a staggering rate.
That is according to Federico Baya of the Argentinian Blueberry Committee (ABC), who spoke to FreshFruitPortal.com as the season's harvests get underway in Tucuman.
The ABC estimates Argentina's blueberry production level will remain flat this year at around 15,000 metric tons (MT). There have been no major changes in planted surface area or yields of newer varieties, he explained.
This production figure is in stark contrast to Peru's, which exports blueberries in the same window and has seen volumes soar; it is forecasting a 60% uptick this year to 76,000MT.
"Today with the disruption of the emergence of these volumes from Peru, the prices have of course suffered," he said.
This has contributed to exporters sending more fruit via sea freight to keep costs down.
"Obviously it's going to be a learning curve for the sector because not all the planted varieties have the capacity to be shipped by boat."
He added that Peru has managed to exceed per-hectare yields of 6 - 7MT - far higher than Argentina.
"Not only have they planted blueberries on a huge amount of land, but they have broken records in terms of export per hectare," he said.
"Argentina has to reconvert itself. It is clearly going to end up being a niche player, not focused on volume but on quality and the development of markets that value good-tasting organic fruit."
More Argentine blueberries to go to China
One market the industry is hoping to strongly develop is China's, after the country granted it access last year.
Argentina sent its first shipment of blueberries to the Chinese market at the end of 2018. However, the move constituted an experiment because the nation dispatched only two air shipments.
China recently lowered tariffs for Argentina from 30% to 15%, and Baya said the industry is hoping to send 3 - 4% of its exports to the new market.
"This year we're expecting a more significant volume. We understand that the Chinese market is currently supplied by some local production and imported fruit from Canada; so we calculate that in the next 15 to 20 years we'll start to supply the market from Argentina," he said.
Baya said Argentina continues to seek a further tariff reduction so its blueberries can better compete with Chile and Peru; both have free trade agreements with China.
The representative also expects the recently signed EU-Mercosur trade deal to increase Argentine blueberries' competitiveness in the European market.