Opinion: Chilean table grape reconversion, drought - FreshFruitPortal.com

Opinion: What Chilean table grape reconversion means for the industry

By Jorge Valenzuela, president of Chile's Federation of Fruit Producers (Fedefruta)

With data from the Chilean Central Bank showing that cherry exports made over US$1.5bn in 2019, we have somewhat forgotten to pay attention to what's happening in the table grape industry, which was last year displaced as Chile's highest-returning fruit sector.

iQonsulting and Uvanova adjusted their projections for grape volumes in 2019-20, confirming that the industry will export less than 600,000 metric tons (MT) in the season. The last campaign, in comparison, just closed with 650,000MT, which itself was lower than previous seasons.

Of course, the severe lack of water is a central factor in this season's estimate, especially considering that growers are seeing smaller sizes in vineyards with less water. The reduction had been anticipated in our sector through the results of a survey on the drought, in which a third of respondents said that grapes are the most heavily affected fruit crop.

However, along with climatic complications, the decrease in volumes is also attributed to varietal reconversion.

New varieties

A large number of hectares have just been planted with new varieties. Over the next two or three years, these will begin to reconfigure the table grape map, amid expectations of a boost in the Chilean supply in the future seasons which will be attractive for supermarkets and profitable for growers.

For instance, our most recent analysis shows that the varieties Arra 15 and Timco had average net returns of US$1.81 per kilo and US$1.22 per kilo, respectively. These varieties also have high per hectare yields, making them an excellent choice for varietal reconversion.

The industry is looking at varieties with yields of at least 3,500 boxes per hectare, that can grow in our climatic conditions, that have post-harvest characteristics to guarantee that they arrive in good condition to the destination, and with excellent taste. 

The process of varietal reconversion may be slow, but that it will literally bear fruit.

Photo: Photo Registry of the Inauguration of the 2019 Fruittrade Convention, Casa Piedra. By Valentino Saldivar