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Cold and rain are disrupting the 2009-10 Chilean fruit deal

by Tad Thompson | November 16, 2009
In Chile it is springtime moving toward summer. Chile's spring has been less than ideal for fruit growers.

Peter Kopke, president of Wm. H. Kopke Jr. Inc. in Lake Success, NY, said that the grape crop "has so far been affected in the Aconcagua Valley, which was especially heavily affected by frost. Also, in Copiapo, there is frost. So, there is a significant effect in Copiapo, but the damage is much greater in the Aconcagua Valley, where you're getting into millions of boxes lost. This is fruit that normally arrives in January and into February. It will be very significant."

"I think Chile's will be a complicated season this year if the spring weather is any indicator. There have been strange weather patterns," said Mark Greenberg, the chief operating officer and senior vice president of procurement of Fisher Capespan, headquartered in Gloucester City, NJ. Speaking by phone Nov. 3 from his Montreal office, Mr. Greenburg said that the odd patterns include "a freeze in the Aconcagua region, in which people estimate 4 million or 5 million boxes of table grapes were destroyed."

Mr. Kopke told The Produce News Nov. 5, "It is too early to comment on the crop in the central valley. Those are later sections" so speculating on the status of those crops would be premature.

The quality of the crop is "not necessarily" hurt, Mr. Kopke added. "Certainly not in Copiapo. It just freezes out those particular vineyards. Sometimes there is a second bloom, but it doesn't pay to harvest" that second bloom. He explained, "There is not enough volume to justify going in and nursing the grapes along. That is very expensive." He added that the growers who have fruit "will be fine" on quality.

Grape exports from Chile this fall will "be a little later than the earliest years. It is not going to be late," Mr. Kopke said. "The Copiapo valley is not late. The first vessel will be arriving, I'd guess, about Dec. 7. I think it is scheduled to load around Nov. 25 or 26."

Springtime in the Santiago region of Chile has been "very long and slow," Mr. Greenberg said, while to the south "there have been some warm days but also it's been unseasonably cooler."

"Copiapo, for the third season in a row is running late," he continued. "When you add to that the fact that Brazil's white seedless crop was devastated by rain in early October, it has created very, very high expectations for Chilean growers that early white grape prices will be high."

Mr. Greenberg said that the cool spring will also affect Chile's plum, peach and nectarine production. "You will probably see lighter volume from Chile because the fruit set will be lighter. All in all, it looks a little complicated. The Chileans are also saying El Nino appears to be quite active this year. The expectation is that it will not be as dry a growing season as last year for table grapes." He noted that "grapes like a dry environment, but if growers take precautions there shouldn't be a dramatic impact."

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms in Grand Junction, MI, said Chile's blueberry crop "is a week behind normal this year. It shouldn't be much of an effect on the overall season." He expects volumes of Chilean blueberries to be loaded on refrigerated sea containers after Thanksgiving.

(For more on the Chilean deal, see the Nov. 16 issue of The Produce News.)