By Jorge Torres G. - White Seedless Manager, Vida Produce Company, ASOEX Fruit Technology Consortium Director, Table Grape Technical Committee President
After 14 years, a lot of work and effort, the initial enthusiasm has finally brought about fruits developed in Chile. At the beginning of the Technological Fruit Consortium, in addition to a desire to see this happen, there were many things that we did not know, theories existed, but the practice did not and of course those lessons that only come with trial and error, even less.
We traveled with the researchers to the most important R&D centers, such as the University of California, Davis, which has the most extensive repository of grape DNA in the world, and which for years offered local researchers ample availability of Vitis from all over the world.
This offered a "different blood" and characteristics developed according to the different origins. I never imagined the number of genera and species of grapevines; this was the basis of the genetic improvement programs of the USDA and from here the team of Dr. David Ramming offered many varieties of table grapes to the world's producers for free.
It also encouraged private breeding programs in California, where many growers made hundreds of crosses to develop proprietary varieties that allowed them to lower labor costs (Grower Friendly) lower the use of gibberellic acid, which at that time cost more than US$3 per gram, and also to get out of the harvest season of low prices, basically allowing growers to create later varieties (September in the northern hemisphere).
Advances in knowledge of genetics, vine DNA sequencing, the development of molecular markers and the practical knowledge of which varieties were "good mothers" meant that the race to develop new varieties of table grapes finally became a business for farmers. Plant breeders together with the possibility of “patenting” the created variety, allowing years and thousands dollars of invested resources to be recovered.
Some had limited successes, others fell by the wayside, a new variety has to have merits to have a position in the portfolio of available varieties, it was not enough to be new, it had to stand out. However for Californian producers, which arrive to the market days after harvest, the post-harvest was not a transcendental issue for us as we are many days away from the markets and we have to take measures to avoid a price collapse.
That is why a local program of genetic improvement is of tremendous importance, the distance from the markets means that not only flavor, color and size are important when it comes to having a new variety, but also the architecture of the rachis, the union of the pedicels, types of shoulders, ease of thinning, dehydration of the stalks (potential of dehydration) physiological disorders.
In short, many aspects that affect the sensation of freshness that the client seeks when opening the box at destination, are tremendously important to consider in a new variety so that it is successful.
Delivering a technological package (basic management manual) that allows success is also of importance, the new introduced genetics are not the same as the traditional varieties and requires a guide of what and how the variety reacts physiologically in such a way that each grower can add his special touch without affecting the physiology of the variety.
Many growers mistakenly maintain, in my opinion, that they have been producing table grapes for "n" years, but each year is different and the environmental conditions can translate their practices into a disastrous failure at destination if they do not know why and how the new variety reacts.
Chile has tremendous professionals, excellent researchers, outstanding farmers, specialized labor, good infrastructure, adequate logistics, but it depends on varieties developed in other climatic conditions and that are produced within walking distance of the markets; it is time that it can enter the leagues of countries that generate their own varieties, not only in grapes, but in other species, and the Fruit Technology Consortium of Chile’s exporters association ASOEX is an example of this.
The Southern Hemisphere Association for Fresh Fruit Exporters (SHAFFE) announced further expansion with the incorporation of the Peruvian Table Grape Producers Association (Provid Peru).
Mexico's Sonora Grape Growers Association (AALPUM) has estimated that there is a record crop of 25.5 million boxes, putting it well above last year’s 21.3 million and a few percentage points up on the 23.6 million exported in 2019 - the current record.