Fruit Today euromagazine talked to Rafael Domínguez, manager of Freshuelva, to find out about the sector’s most relevant aspects in the campaign that has just started
Can you confirm that strawberries are experiencing a stable phase, or in other words, that they have reached maturity?
We can talk about stability if we refer to the number of hectares in the plantations. In this sense, the statement is correct. Speaking specifically about strawberries, in recent years we have been moving around 6,000 hectares, which we see as correct for the sector. The same cannot be said for the increase in raspberries, with an excess of 10% and bilberries, with a 3% surplus.
Another question altogether involves the production volumes, which in a long campaign like ours means it is impossible to give any advance figures today.
What are strawberry producers concerned about?
Our producers are concerned about profitability, and this is a general concern in the fruit and vegetable growing sector. We must be able to maintain the profitability of the fields; otherwise, they will have no future.
We are also concerned about the EU’s constant quest to come to agreements with third countries that are leaving us without any room for manoeuvre on our main market: Europe. The United Kingdom is about to leave, and if there are no changes, it will become a third country. What EU internal market is left for the Europeans?
There has been a bilberry bubble that burst and the market has not recovered from it yet, but now problems are starting with raspberries due to the Moroccan productions. What is your opinion on this?
Yes, this is true. At present we are concerned because the markets are being flooded with Moroccan raspberries. Raspberries and bilberries are arriving without any type of customs duties. Moroccan raspberry entries have quadrupled and we have asked the Ministry to carry out a study on what is happening. If the start of our campaign is dragged down by the prices imposed by the Moroccans, it will be very negative for the sector.
In Huelva, we have managed to obtain raspberries all year round, using different varieties, and this is an important advantage for farmers. There are plant breeders that have a complete calendar for the 12 months of the year.
Regarding what has occurred with bilberries, it is obvious that one of the things that happened is that the offer grew tremendously, compared to a demand that is still limited. At the moment, the growth is slowing down. There is a larger volume because the plantations from a few years’ ago are coming into production, but now nobody is talking about new crops. The evolution of this category involves obtaining early and ultra-early varieties.
In Huelva, farmers are no longer planting just berries. The sector is looking for diversification with other crops such as avocados, mangos, persimmons, etc. And this is happening in the regions of Lepe and Cartaya because there are less water problems there.
Is the sector very hyped up about having more appropriate varieties? What role does the FNM play?
There is significant movement because the producers are aware of the need to belong to a “club” or to be a licence-holder of the most suitable varieties for each market. At present, the clubs are not giving out licences for the more profitable varieties and there are companies that have opted for working alongside other national or foreign entities to gain access or get exploitation rights for a variety.
The creation of FNM was a real success because it is a company from Huelva, with participation by the sector and it has offered highly profitable varieties; in fact, we have a market share of 37%, with the Rociera at the head.
Are you exploring new markets?
Yes, of course we are. We know the competition that is being generated in this globalised world and the filtering of products from third countries that are being imposed on the European market. The sector is very dynamic and we are not letting the grass grow under our feet.
The EU has just signed an agreement with Singapore and we continue to look for new markets, including China.
You are located next to a shipping port, how come advantage is not being taken of this asset?
Ideally, the port of Huelva should have a shipping terminal that could send goods from here to Hong Kong or Singapore, as occurs in Chile. At present, we are negotiating with the Port Authority, but at the moment there are no shipping companies interested. We have even had meetings with a Japanese company to discover the latest progress being made in cold technology. The port is a great option for the future.
Has the location of the Red Fruits Congress been changed?
No, it will finally be held at the Casa Colón again, but we will have more space available for it.