Chilean Fruit Blueberry Committee: Promotion of varietal replacement to increase the competitiveness of the industry

support the varietal replacement, providing reliable, independent and public information that helps producers make better decisions regarding the blueberry varieties they are going to plant. That is the objective that has been set by the Chilean Fruit Blueberry Committee which, through demonstration pilots, evaluates and characterizes the varieties so that producers can have varieties that allow them better productivity, quality and condition, therefore, greater profitability.

The blueberry demonstration pilots began in 2017 located in the south-central area of ​​Chile. This is a collaborative work of the Blueberry Committee together with the Universidad de Concepción, the Agricultural Research Institute (INIA), co-financed by Corfo, through which it seeks to improve the yield potential and quality of the fruit, through varietal replacement and crop protection.

Julia Pinto, technical manager of Chilean Fruit Blueberry Committee He explained that this work arose because there were producers who had problems with the varieties, since they did not have technological packages or support to work these varieties well in accordance with the productive area. “Therefore, we begin with Blue-Ribbon, Top Shelf y Legacy (as a witness) building these demonstrative pilots from scratch, located in Traiguén and Linares. In addition to working on varieties, we also addressed crop protection, that is, how to protect varieties in accordance with the extreme weather events that we were having and are having. The previous thing was the departure of work with the INIA, UdeC and the producers. Then, we incorporate varieties such as Peachy Blue, which was planted three years ago, on land,” he explained.

Julia Pinto technical manager of the Chilean Fruit Blueberry Committee.

Pinto stated that the objective is to provide the producer early with tools for characterization and management of the varieties that are being offered to the market. We do not work with club varieties, but we do work with those that pay a royalty and that producers can market with the company they deem. “We have been adding varieties such as Peachy Blue (Fall Creek) and lately varieties like Loreto Blue y Blue Moon (both of Fall creek). In 2023 we integrate varieties of the University of Florida as Optimus, Meadowlark, Indigo y Keecrisp, in addition to Arabella Blue de Fall creek. Our objective is for the producer to analyze whether the varieties are suitable for their production area. For example, when it flowers, when the production is, concentration of the harvest time, if it needs structure, sensitivities to diseases or pests, that is, characterize a variety and then in the first year try to have fruit to see the quality of the fruit. and what is its behavior in postharvest and we do this stage together with the Center for Postharvest Studies of the University of Chile,CEPOC", noticed.

In short, the agronomist explained that the demonstrative pilots have two stages. In the first, the varieties are characterized in terms of production. Then provide information on how to perform pruning, irrigation, nutrition, among others. The second stage seeks to see the characteristics of the fruit, both quality and condition. Both stages are focused on providing early information to producers so that they can make decisions, since, in general, the producer questions the variety he is going to plant or how it will behave in his area.

On the other hand, something that we have incorporated into the characterization is to see the behavior of the variety before extreme climatic events, such as “We have seen that not all varieties react the same in terms of climatic events. This season has been different, we had a pretty good December for the harvest, in terms of temperature. Unfortunately, in the central and south-central areas, where blueberry production is concentrated, in the seasons prior to this one, we have suffered from high temperatures (more intense, extensive and frequent heat waves) and the varieties responded differently to climatic events. and you have to know that beforehand,” said Pinto.

“In parallel, we see the behavior of the varieties (fruit) to the different post-harvest technologies and protocols required by the destination countries, such as, for example, Methyl Bromide for the United States (zones quarantined by LB),” highlighted Pinto.

Currently, consumers request varieties with good size, color, balance between soluble solids and acidity, firmness and crunchiness.

Reduce uncertainty for producers

Regarding the choice of these varieties, Julia Pinto pointed out that in Chile for many years there was no availability of varieties with medium and high requirements for cold hours, since the genetic programs were focused on varieties with low requirements for cold hours. “A few years ago, varieties with medium to high chill hour requirements emerged and that is where we saw that there was a need to characterize these varieties for producers. We started with great demonstration pilots, with the University of Concepción and INIA, with both institutions and with our technical committee, we worked for 6 years and countless technological dissemination has been carried out. In addition, a Postharvest Manual has been published for these varieties that are already established in Chile. And, the book “Production and Management of Blueberries under Coverage” is soon to be released, she explained.

In this way we reduce producers' uncertainty about what to plant or knowing that there are varieties that are earlier due to their characteristics, quality, fruit condition, planting problems, etc. “Ultimately, you need varieties that weigh many good kilos, for this you have to exploit the best potential of the variety and therefore you have to know it,” said Pinto.

Thus, the producer makes accurate decisions to produce the maximum, along with the best possible quality and condition in order to not only recover his investment, but also so that the variety can compete in markets," he noted.


Results and their dissemination to the industry

Regarding, what have been the results of these demonstration gardens and what has been the response of the industry? The specialist commented that, in parallel with the demonstration pilots, immediate dissemination is carried out. “This is what we did with the projects of the University of Concepción and INIA, in which we developed many workshops and seminars on varieties. We create files in which we provide the characteristics of the plants, which we then transmit to the producers. We also developed field days, which helped producers learn about the varieties. The objective is to transmit the information as soon as possible, which has been well received by the industry and producers,” she indicated.

The expert commented that they also work together with advisor Raúl Olivares, who visited the demonstration pilots and provided recommendations to the producers. “The producer decides whether or not to put the demonstrative pilot in his field, therefore, what we want to inform him is to carry out the best management as advised by the advisor, INIA or University of Concepción. So that in this way we can have a better product, that is, get the most out of the variety, from planting to post-harvest.”

Currently, consumers request varieties with good size, color, balance between soluble solids and acidity, firmness and crunchiness. “Those are the characteristics that the consumer is looking for. On the other hand, the producer needs varieties that, in addition to providing these attributes, are highly productive (with good yields) and with adequate costs. The producer needs it to be a profitable variety, that is, many good kilos to export. And hopefully in the second year they will have an amount of fruit that will allow them to market and begin to recover the investment,” commented Pinto.

Exports: Great Increase in New Varieties

To have better competitiveness in destination markets, the Blueberry Committee divided blueberry varieties into 3 groups: Group 1, new and traditional varieties that may be exported fresh, considering harvest periods and destination markets. Group 2, varieties in which greater caution is suggested when exported fresh, given that they are varieties that have demonstrated fragility, especially in relation to firmness, and Group 3, varieties that are suggested not to be included in export programs. fresh given its weak post-harvest behavior,” he emphasized.

So far in the development of the 2023-2024 season, Julia Pinto reported that 74.857 tons of fresh blueberries have been exported. A figure that represents a decrease compared to the 83 tons of the same period of the previous campaign. Of this volume, 813 tons correspond to Group 56.219.

Pinto added that the Club varieties have been increasing their volume in exports, along with newer varieties. While in Group 1 volumes of conventional varieties such as Legacy and Duke are still maintained, “Group 2 has been decreasing, with varieties that do not have the same quality of fruit. All of which shows that producers are changing varieties and seeking to continue with their blueberry production, since they see it as a productive alternative for their farms. There are other producers for whom the replacement has cost more because they want to see how the varieties work before making the leap. There are also producers who do not want to change, those who will have to leave the market fresh,” he explained.

As for the less profitable varieties, Pinto commented that there are varieties that are not the most suitable for fresh export, which is why many producers who have them use them mainly for freezing. “In Group 2 there are still some varieties that have commercial possibility and must be worked well during the harvest for the result to be positive. We can compete, we see good fruit. When the fruit is worked well, when the indicated varieties and harvest frequencies are available, we can reach the markets well. Naturally, due to our Mediterranean climate we have a spectacular soluble solids ratio and if we add quality fruit, without a doubt it considerably improves our competitiveness.”


Varietal Replacement: Better competitiveness and Better Producer Results

Replacement is one of the priorities of the Blueberry Committee. This was stated by Pinto, who added that Chile is a pioneer in the export of blueberries against the season, with a history of more than 25 years, and, therefore, has the knowledge to continue being an important competitor.

“At first we planted what we had and brought it mainly from North America, as they were varieties to be sold in the US, the main market for our blueberries. However, before 100% of our shipments were sent to this market, then that decreased to 90% and now it reaches 45%. This is explained because before what was there was planted and thinking about the US as a destination. Then we began to worry about the post-harvest, since there were varieties that did not work for long distances by boat. “That was the starting point to begin segregating varieties that were not suitable for shipping by ship.”

Julia Pinto indicated that in the past “the industry did not have competition against the season, there was only Argentina that entered at the beginning of the season. However, when Peru entered with significant volumes of blueberries, these new varieties emerged with a low requirement for cold hours. “There is beginning to be more supply and new generation varieties are appearing that are larger and firmer. It is important to highlight that the current one is not the first varietal replacement that has been done in Chile; before, many varieties were planted that did well at first, but that were not so competitive. They were not varieties like those of today that are of the latest generation. Therefore, we convey to the variety generators that the main problem is firmness. We have to reach the markets well and the varieties are not complying.”


Challenges of Varietal Replacement

Regarding the challenges of Varietal replacement, the manager of the Blueberry Committee explained that as an industry “we don't have much time. Therefore, the main challenge is to have information on the varieties that are being planted to deliver to the producer. You have to be careful because many times there are varieties that are planted in agroclimatic zones that do not work, because they are varieties that are defined for a high requirement for cold hours or vice versa. Therefore, that variety is not going to fulfill its potential in that area. “That is a mistake, since varieties are planted where they do not belong.”

According to the expert, there are varieties planted in the Los Angeles area that do not work with high temperatures. Therefore, they are varieties that should be grown in the southern area. “You have to have knowledge, that's why these pilots help. As a Committee we have set ourselves the challenge of providing information to producers, but it is also necessary for breeders to provide information about how the varieties work and define what problems they have. That is the challenge of varietal replacement so that the producer does not make mistakes and does the best with the plant in terms of irrigation, nutrition, pests, and diseases. This way you can get the most out of it, and recover your investment.”

Finally, Julia Pinto explained that “another challenge is managing the harvest in the best way and then post-harvest. If I decide to change varieties, I must use the best practices in the post-harvest to exploit the best of that variety, one to save time and arrive with the fruit with the expected quality and condition."


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