The blueberry is dying in Argentina: From attracting investment to halving its export figures

The blueberry situation in the country, with its main production in the Concordia region, is going through a severe crisis, as a result of a lack of policies that boost the growth of the sector for international competition.

This subject was addressed in depth by Matías Longoni, with a note in Bichos de Campo entitled "Argentina ruins even its best illusions: Agonizes the blueberry, an activity that attracted many investments and later stumbled upon reality."

We share the note below, which includes an interview with Alejandro Pannunzio, a UBA teacher who produces that fruit in the Concordia area.

The 2020 blueberry campaign was forgotten. One more. That crop that 15/20 years ago attracted investors of all kinds and that promised to become a very powerful export alternative, is now languishing due to the obstacles that Argentina imposes on these types of entrepreneurs: high production costs, lack of commercial agreements , economic instability that hinders the renewal of varieties, exchange delay and multiple etceteras.

Argentina is a country that specializes in ruining your best illusions.

Alejandro Pannunzio, a renowned irrigation specialist - a professor at the UBA - who also produces this fruit in the Concordia area, in Entre Ríos, said that in Argentina there are 2.300 hectares planted with blueberries, when ten years ago there were 4.800 hectares. That is why in the 2020 season it exported just over 10,5 million kilos, when years ago it had exported twice as much, 20 million kilos of blueberries.

The numbers should have been very different if Argentina had followed the same path as this South American region, which has specialized in the production of blueberries to export against the season to the markets of the Northern Hemisphere, especially the United States and the European Union. that they are good payers. The region grew from 51.700 hectares planted in 2009 to almost 100 in 2019.

Pannunzio calculated that if Argentina had followed the same evolution, the area planted with that berrie should be reaching 8.640 hectares, but it is only a quarter of that, because it regressed. Involution is an undeniable fact. If it had followed the Latin American stride, the country would be exporting 36 million kilos of the prized fruit, and not the 10,5 million from last season.

Adolfo Storni, from the Extraberries firm, said that for most blueberry producers, the Achilles heel has been the little change in varieties. It is that in all the rest of the producing countries they have been updated, but here it did not happen and then the productivity obtained is very low, about 7 tons in the national average. That is why many surfaces go out of production: costs are not saved if less than 10 kilos per hectare are obtained.

Speaking to the AgroValle media, Betina Ernst, president of the specialized consultancy Top Info Marketing SA, evaluated that Argentina “was the classic early supplier, being practically only during October and November. Its industry was based on starting as soon as possible, for which it implanted early varieties, looked for precocious regions and worked with air shipping. But the emergence of very strong competitors in the same period and with competitive advantages seriously complicated the development of the industry. It had to rethink its objectives, focus on the most productive regions and farms, reduce costs and go from exporting volume to quality ”.

When it comes to new competitors, the blueberry homeland will immediately look to Peru, which developed irrigated cultivation in the desert regions of the coast and in a few years became the world's leading exporter. even displacing the powerful Chile. The 2020 balance will say that Peru exported 150 million kilos of blueberries and Chile about 110 million. Only after, with 10,5 million kilos, Argentina appears. South Africa, on another continent, exposes the local decline much more, exporting 13 million kilos last season.

Here the speed of the fall is accelerated. The campaign ended with an export close to 10.500 tons, a volume 17% lower than in 2019 and 30% lower than that obtained in 2017 and 2018. Ernst explained almost without hesitation that “the drop is due to high costs and lack of treaties commercial". Storni provides a key piece of information to understand why Argentine blueberries are not competitive in the international market: to enter Europe they must pay a 4% tariff while Chile and Peru pay 0% due to free trade agreements.

Export withholdings, as in the rest of the fruit growing activities, were only eliminated at the end of 2020, that is, after the end of the export season, which lasts until November. And while the government managed to get China to cut its import tariffs from 30% to 15%, that's still a lot compared to the advantage of competitors. That is why the illusion of exporting blueberries to that market continues to be just that, illusions.

“Given the lower competitiveness, the country specializes in niches or market segments that appreciate the good taste of Argentine blueberries. Thus, it is targeting organic production, which is estimated to have reached 30% of the last export. With regard to costs, it is sought to reduce them through a greater turn towards maritime shipping. In the current campaign for the first time it was possible to send more by ship (57%) than by air. In previous years only 10-20% left by ship ”, explained the specialist in the fruit business.

The implanted area that is still standing, and which would be about 2.500 hectares, is divided equally between the Litoral region (Entre Ríos and something in Corrientes) and the northwest (Tucumán and Salta).

Bichos de Campo carried out a special program on blueberries in September 2019, which is strikingly topical:

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