“Another reason for the drop in fresh blueberry exports is the low prices seen in the market”
Jorge Esquivel Manterola is the director of Blueberries Consulting and D&E Consultores Associados. Manterola is an agronomist, MSc in soil chemistry and plant nutrition from the Autonomous University of Madrid.
AgriBrasilis – How is the blueberry market in Chile? Who are the main buyers?
Jorge Esquivel – The Chilean blueberry industry is mainly dedicated to exporting. Chilean production is rarely geared towards the domestic market.
The main destination is North America (USA and Canada), where more than 50% of exports go. The rest is exported to Europe, with 30%, the Far East, with 10%, Latin America and the Middle East.
In recent years, the Asian market share has increased rapidly, particularly China. Sales quotas are still small, although they are increasing.
AgriBrasilis – What are the most important companies in this sector? What varieties are grown, in which regions?
Jorge Esquivel – The main producing and exporting companies are Hortifrut, Agroberries, Prize, GiddingsFruit, Niceblue, Copefrut, Frusan, Dole, Zurgroup, CarSolFruit, Northbay Produce, among others.
Blueberries in Chile are cultivated from the Coquimbo region (known as the “fourth region”), with a semi-desert climate, to the Los Lagos region (“tenth region”), with an austral, cold and rainy climate. Different varieties are used in each area. Harvesting time for each variety can classified as early, intermediate or late, with low or high requirements for cold hours.
Three regions of the country represent 71% of shipments: Maule, Ñuble and Biobío, and are located in the central zone of the country, with a temperate climate.
Chile grows the Legacy, Duke, Brigitta, Brightwell, Blue Ribbon varieties, among others, although the main Chilean varieties are Legacy and Duke, that account for almost 40% of the country’s total shipments.
AgriBrasilis – How did the last Chilean harvests behave? What factors have led to the recent expansion of the frozen blueberry market?
Jorge Esquivel – The expiration of the varieties cultivated by the Chilean industry caused a drop in the production of the last harvests, falling from more than 110,000 tonnes, three or four years ago, to 80,000.
To face this situation, an important varietal replacement was initiated, but because of the edaphoclimatic conditions in Chile, this process has been slow compared to Peru, for example, where a plant starts producing from the 1st year. In Chile, production takes two or three harvests, and four or five to reach the maximum productive potential.
Added to this is the fact that the quality of the fruit of these varieties does not follow the standards required by new consumers, that is why a large part of the production has to come from the frozen food industry.
Another reason for the drop in fresh blueberry exports is the low prices registered in the market, that leads many farmers to prefer to send the frozen fruit and carry out mechanized harvesting, saving labor.
AgriBrasilis – How have costs behaved in the sector?
Jorge Esquivel – The industry’s costs and profitability also varied. Costs have increased because of the impact of the pandemic on the logistics and transport sector, and the war in Ukraine, regarding fertilizers, for example.
Furthermore, the values of the fruit on the world market have dropped because of increased supply, so the profitability of the business has declined.
AgriBrasilis – What is the importance of genetics and the development of new varieties? What characteristics are sought in breeding?
Jorge Esquivel – The objetctive of the new genetic improvements is to solve various needs of the industry, such as lower sensitivity of the plant to pests and diseases; greater water efficiency and, above all, better fruit quality, in terms of size, flavor, turgidity and firmness, to face long journeys to destination markets.
AgriBrasilis – How has climate change affected the cultivation of blueberries? What adaptations will be necessary?
Jorge Esquivel – In Chile, climate change is shifting the climate south by about 100 kilometers every 10 years, so that the geography of the crop changes annually. Prolonged drought is also a consequence of this phenomenon, and therefore the main genetic adaptations occur in this aspect. Cultivars are better prepared to face a situation of water scarcity.
AgriBrasilis – What are the activities of Blueberries Consulting?
Jorge Esquivel – Blueberries Consulting is an international consultancy that aims to support the development of the global blueberry industry. For this reason, the company maintains the most important virtual portal of specialized information on the blueberry in Spanish.
We carry out commercial technical visits to crops in different producing countries and periodically hold international seminars on blueberry cultivation in the main producing and exporting countries of this fruit for the fresh fruits market.