In the hope that production volumes will soon return to normality, Rafael Dominguez talked to Fruit Today about the most important questions for a sector that reached an invoicing of almost one billion euros between January and October of 2018
How do you envisage this season, which at present, has started with an obvious delay compared to a normal campaign due to the cold? How can this fact be translated into marketing terms?
January’s figures reveal a 60% drop in marketing compared to the last two campaigns and this means we have no idea about its evolution, not only on a production level, but also regarding the markets for February. There is a key moment in the campaign: St. Valentine’s day. From that point onwards, we will be able to see if we can recover what we haven’t sold.
On the other hand, the weather factor will be important, both at source and at the destinations. In February, the temperatures can rise in Huelva, but they may also get colder at the destinations, which could mean a serious disadvantage for the demand. Our hope is that there will be a synchronisation at source and destination and, thus, the campaign could be recovered.
This year, the variation in strawberries is not significant and we have only risen by 3.5%, therefore the forecasts are for around 300,000 tonnes, the same as for the previous campaign.
The strawberry trade complementarity has already occurred in a categorical manner, with many successes and some misfortunes, one of which is the problem with the blueberry. Has the sector thought about this?
Yes, obviously the sector has thought about this, and this year, although there will be between 5% and 7% more produce, it could be said that we are correcting the important increases that were recorded in previous years and that reached 20%. The current estimates indicate that we have around 3,100 hectares of plantations.
Aware of this problem, at Freshuelva we have put initiatives on the table that try to extend the markets. We have already carried out the appropriate formalities with the two corresponding Ministries to enter the Chinese market. On the other hand, last year we performed promotion actions on the home market, where there is still a wide margin for growth.
In order to avoid production peaks, earlier varieties are being planted to prevent the market from collapsing at certain times.
What are the most imminent challenges?
Amongst the many topics that we have put on the table, we are giving priority to opening up new markets such as China, India and Canada. On the other hand, we continue with communication and sharing the qualities of our produce at trade fairs and forums. And here I would like to emphasise the work that we continue to do for the Red Fruit Congress that we hold in June and that has now become an international event.
I presume that you are closely monitoring the developments in some African countries and in Turkey and even in Holland, where there are already midwinter productions. What approaches are being considered at Freshuelva? By the way, Brussels has just given the go ahead to productions in the Sahara within the EU Agreement with Morocco
This is not a new subject. Our approach is that we must compete on the same terms as the other competitors from the EU. We cannot give more advantages to those who are outside the EU than to its own members. And this aspect does not only affect our strawberry production, but also many other Spanish productions. In a globalised world, we must compete on equal terms.
In-company research has been a workhorse that must be taken into account. What are the most recent home-grown references for raspberries, strawberries and blueberries?
Our support for this type of initiative has always been unconditional and at Fresas Nuevos Materiales (New Strawberry Materials) we have already put varieties on the circuit that have given very good results, such as Rociera and Primoris. In raspberries, we now have the variety R15-21-5, on trial in the sector, which is in the process of being registered for this campaign. Blueberries must be the next step.
On the subject of the markets, are there any internal considerations regarding the uncertainty unleashed by the UK, the main destination for small berries?
Obviously Brexit is causing uncertainty for us as the United Kingdom has traditionally been our second market. It is not the controls themselves that concern us, but rather the traffic holdups that could occur at the border for produce that is as perishable as berries.
Can you give me the latest strawberry consumption data on the Spanish market? What estimates are there from your point of view?
Strawberry consumption on the Spanish market is about 2.5 kilos per inhabitant/year, but we believe that there is still some margin for growth and much more if we are referring to raspberries and blueberries. All red fruits are a source of health and, although somewhat behind other European consumers, Spaniards are becoming aware of their benefits.