Newsletter Week 51

Many things have changed here over the last 10 months and since the pandemic started, but lots of other things remain constant and the cherry harvest and its growing volumes is one of them. We are now in the peak of the season and finally entering the long-expected surge in volumes. The forecast this season is for 63 million equivalent boxes of 5 kg, an increase of 38% compared to the 45.7 million boxes of last season.

Before the season started, we thought that due to the Covid virus, market access to China was going to be a problem, but things always turn out differently than what you expected. Who would have thought that with low fuel prices and all the planes on stand-by, freight would be more scarce and more expensive than ever? Who would have thought that even with so many people loosing their jobs, we would face a serious labor crisis to harvest and process the fruit? Because of the pandemic, some (older) people are scared to come to work, some people are scared they will lose government benefits if they work, some feel that the government hand-outs are enough. At the same time, the students are finishing their year one or two months later than normal years and the border is closed for foreign workers, where Bolivians and Peruvians usually come in large numbers to work: all in all the perfect storm. As a result, wages are very high and workers jumpy and difficult to please. But despite everything, it looks like we will get most of the fruit in the box within an acceptable time-span.

We did not have rains during the bloom nor any significant climatic events afterwards, and generally speaking fruit is clean and healthy. Due to sufficient cold hours and excellent conditions during bloom, many orchards overset, especially Lapins, which now is the most important variety produced in Chile. Last year, Lapins represented 31% of total volume, Santina 18%, Regina 13% and Bing also 13%, but this year it is likely that Lapins will represent 40% of the total volume. Due to these big yields, sugar and firmness are down and sizes smaller.

The increase in volumes of cherries is not reflected in the statistics, as the crop is delayed by one week; underneath please find the numbers until December 13.

We have also started packing nectarines and peaches, and fruit is medium sized. The crop of grapes is pushed back further and further, as early varieties such as Perlette, Prime and Flame have been uprooted, and in general there is less of a hurry to race to the market due to the presence of Peru with early fruit. Also grape growers face a shortage of labor, with some growers in Copiapó deliberating what variety to harvest and which one to leave for raisins.

In general there is a large crop for all species, with the exception of kiwis. In the case of apples, many growers have had to delay the thinning of the trees, as the workers are now harvesting cherries, where they can make considerably more money. As a result, it is likely there will be a lot of small sizes this year. Due to the bad market conditions combined with lack of labor, a lot of blueberries are harvested mechanically and used for industrial and frozen purposes.

The weather looks stable for the next 10 days, and the peso is at 722 pesos to the USD, which is less than its peak of 878, but still better (at least for the exporters) than the 684 pesos two years ago or the 614 pesos three years ago.

We had decent rains during the winter, and do not have the pressing issues of water this year, but the draught is not over.