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A remarkable year for Chile comes to a close

by Tad Thompson | October 25, 2010

ORLANDO, FL — By many measures, Chile has experienced a remarkable year.

In the fruit industry, Antonio Walker has become the new president of Fedefruta, Chile's fruit producers’ association, noted Ron Bown, the chairman of ASOEX, which is Chile’s fruit exporters association. In recent months, the Chilean Citrus Committee was created, taking a place alongside similar ASOEX-affiliated blueberry and asparagus committees.

In other Chilean fruit industry news in 2010, pomegranates and baby kiwifruit have received approval for export by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.

Mr. Bown, speaking Oct. 15 at a Chilean fruit conference, here, in conjunction with the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention, also noted that Chile has a new president, Sebastian Piñera. He represents a move from two decades of central-left political leanings to central-right.

His election win means that Chilean agriculture will be encouraged to persue fair internal competition and a cooperation between the government and the fruit industry toward beneficial goals, Mr. Bown said.

Mr. Bown also noted that Chile endured the fifth-largest earthquake in the world’s recorded history Feb. 27. Despite gloomy immediate reports that emerged from the industry, Chile was exporting fruit the day after the disaster. Generally speaking, the nation also quickly rebounded from the earthquake.

Chile’s national reputation for aggressive, positive action was strongly reinforced this month when 33 Chilean miners were rescued after spending more than two months trapped below ground near the fruit-producing town of Copiapo, Chile.

Further, Mr. Bown noted that 2010 is Chile’s bicentennial, the 75th anniversary of ASOEX and the 25th anniversary of Fedefruta.

Fedefruta’s Mr. Walker indicated that Chile’s avocado production was down 30 percent last season but volumes should return to normal for 2010-11.

Chilean fruit growers will face a 30 percent increase in labor costs this season because many farmworkers have moved to construction employment to rebuild the country after the February earthquake, Mr. Walker said. The Chilean growers will compensate for heightened production costs by shipping only the highest-quality fruit, Mr. Walker said, while asking U.S. buyers to help by "selling at the best prices you can."

Juan Enrique Ortúzar, chairman of the Chilean Citrus Committee, said that his group was founded by the 20 leading citrus exporters to develop the market and ensure that high-quality fruit is exported to support strong prices.

Andres Armstrong, executive director of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, said that his group is pleased to work in cooperation with the new Argentina Blueberry Committee. Argentine and Uruguayan blueberry growers are “very, very complementary” to Chilean production by preceding Chile in the winter blueberry deal.

Mr. Armstrong said that his 27 members last season represented 86 percent of Chile’s blueberry export volume, which totaled 49.7 metric tons. This was up from just 9.5 metric tons in 2003-04.

This coming season, Chilean blueberry volume is expected to hit 66.7 metric tons, with 82 percent of that (54,000 metric tons) shipping to the United States. Larger pack sizes will help move the additional volume in 2010-11.

The total Chilean blueberry volume is expected to hit 110,000 metric tons in 2014-15. “The big challenge is that we need to develop new markets,” Mr. Armstrong said.