view current print edition




Peruvian company shifting emphasis on citrus varieties

by Tad Thompson | June 17, 2010
Tangerines, clementines and Star Ruby grapefruit will be increasing in production for Empacadora y Procesadora Huamani S.A.C. in coming years.

The grower-packer-exporter of Peruvian citrus, asparagus and grapes is based in Pisco, which is on Peru's central coast about 180 miles south of Lima.

Ismael Benavides, the major shareholder and chief executive officer of Huamani, said that his firm started as "quite a small agricultural operation" 34 years ago and now has 500 acres of citrus, including Minneolas and oranges, plus 500 acres of asparagus and 250 acres of Red Globe and Flame grapes.

Mr. Benavides said that the firm will launch a small volume of Star Ruby exports next year. He emphasized, "Trials are very productive, so we expect to have a higher volume quite rapidly by 2012 and 2013."

As for choosing soft-skinned citrus varieties for the future, Mr. Benavides will be traveling to the United States and Israel this summer to make final choices among tangerine and clementine options. Those decisions will be made by late summer and grafting will then begin immediately.

"Clementines are an option we will seriously look into," he said.

In 2005, Huamani built a citrus processing plant, which was expanded to pack grapes and asparagus under the "Santa Cruz" label. The firm also has a large cold-storage facility. "We grow the majority of the fruit we process," he said. "That is another company, actually, but the production site is a mile away -- very close."

Huamani also packs for other growers, who may or may not export through Mr. Benavides' firm.

"The idea is that we have a sufficiently large plantation that we want to have diversity in our production," he said. "What we foresee is that the company over time will grow more into citrus in the first place and, secondly, into grapes."

Mr. Benavides, who attended the University of California-Berkeley, and until late 2008 was Peru's minister of agriculture, said that Peru is the world's largest asparagus exporter.

"What is happening in Peru is that asparagus plantations are getting old, and you cannot replant asparagus in the same field," he said.

The tendency, then, for Peruvian asparagus production will be for the crop "to remain static and not grow much."

Meanwhile, Pisco offers "perfect weather for citrus," he said. "There are not extremely high temperatures in the winter or summer, and we are also quite close to main ports. The transit times [to Peruvian seaports] aren't extensive, so that helps the quality of the fruit."

Pisco's dry climate enables growers to effectively control pests to meet most international phytosanitary standards.

Peru has Medfly controls to satisfy the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "and the government and growers have a very intense elimination campaign for fruit fly," he said.

Mr. Benavides said that by the end of next year, Peru should be declared free of fruit fly. "That is a tremendous advantage." There are other pests but "you could say Peruvian citrus is free of major pests and we are trying to maintain a good pest management system to keep fields clean of pests."

Currently, Huamani's citrus exports are equal for Europe and the United States and account for most of the volume.

"We do have plans to export to places like Eastern Europe, Russia or have some sales in Latin America, also, with smaller volumes," Mr. Benavidas said. "Recently we were given sanitary authorizations in China, so we are looking at the Asian market, particularly China, [South] Korea and eventually Japan, which has very stringent sanitary rules. I think we will see a shift of Peruvian exports toward the Far East."

There are indications of Chinese demand for Red Globe grapes, so "citrus, I think, will eventually go that direction, also."