This is the opinion of Pascual Prats, chairman of the National Persimmon Association, who, reluctantly, ratifies that the pests are only being slowed down, but not eliminated
Mealy bugs are not new pests, but this year they have particularly devastated the persimmon crops. Plots that had been minimally affected, around 10%, saw the presence of the disease increase up to 25%.
What are the first campaign symptoms for the Association members? What product volume is expected to be marketed?
We are experiencing an important uncertainty due to the spreading of the mealy bugs. The truth is that there are fields that are not even going to be harvested, both belonging to cooperatives and to private farms. The volume will depend heavily on the pests, because the situation can evolve, and new generations appear every 25 days. Even though the tree is being treated on the outside, the mealy bugs are still present.
We had a potential volume of around 360 million kilos, but around 70 million kilos will not be harvested. I think that we are almost certainly going to see a decrease of around 20% or 25%.
Does this situation mean that many more treatments have been carried out in general to tackle the problem?
Yes, indeed, but they have not worked. We have tried using biological cryptolaemus systems, at the same time as we continue to use chemicals, while maintaining a balance in order to not harm the predators that we release. All in all, we don’t know where we are regarding this subject of pests.
So, production costs are higher than normal?
Of course; there are farmers who have gone from using 5 treatments to double this amount and even then, they haven’t solved the problem. Added to these costs is increase in price of raw materials, electricity, fertilizers, diesel, etc. 15 years ago, with one treatment we had sorted the problem; 10 years ago we needed to use five treatments and now we have to add another 3.
Could Spanish persimmons be rejected in some countries due to the mealy bug larvae problem?
Of course this possibility exists in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, Canada or Brazil, to name but a few destinations. This situation makes things even more complicated. We are going to have to make a greater selection both in the fields and in the warehouses to ensure that our clients receive the best quality.
There will be no solution this year because the effectiveness of the treatments does not last longer than 20 days. The only thing we are doing is to slow the pests down, not eliminate them. If the fields are not treated, it could affect 100% of the crop.
I suppose there is no urgency for opening up new markets. What can you add on this point?
The current mealy bug problem means that we are focusing our attention on one point, and therefore, the search for new markets has been moved back to second place. This does not mean the idea of exporting is being abandoned or that it is not going to happen. Many of the members of our association already export and they do so very well, including destinations that are a long way away, and they will continue to do so.
We will have good quality because it is already there, but it is going to be very difficult choosing the fruit in the fields, although we must add that there are also fields where there are no pests in areas such as Casinos, Godelleta, etc., which will be used to supply the more distant markets, which obviously involve greater costs and risks than the Spanish or European markets. I must point out that the rising prices of ocean freight are a significant handicap for large scale exports.
In terms of work, what has been done lately within the Association?
The association’s aim is to resolve everything that concerns us together. We are very proud of having taken a step forward with Hispatec, which will help us in real time to discover the volumes available and the market prices. It is a software system onto which we introduce the data anonymously, but from which we all benefit in terms of market knowledge.
Will the current situation mean a larger number of trees being grubbed out?
Without any doubt. I calculate that next year there will be a reduction of between 10% and 20% of trees. Mealy bugs have generated a social problem for many farmers who see their assets in danger due to the current situation. Therefore, trees will undoubtedly be grubbed out.