The activity of the PGI Poma de Girona never stops, even though the sector is always living with the challenge of profitability on the first stage: the production
However, both companies and producers are firmly backing the idea of maintaining their production, fixing the landscape and being sustainable. This risky commitment is being realised through technology, investment and research.
Fruit Today interviewed Llorenç Frígola, chairman of the PGI Poma de Girona.
Every day the primary sector sees how its margins are getting narrower, but you don’t give up.
It is true, our commitment involves training the producers, as well as making important investments in the installations that will allow us to extend and modernise the fruit processing. We have travelled a great deal and we are taking note of everything that is being done in other parts of the world.
In the fields, we are increasingly implanting mechanisation for thinning, pruning and shaping the trees on the walls to obtain uniformity in hours of sunshine and in the sugars contained in the fruit.
This high level of technification also has to do with the challenge that we will have in the future (and that is already present) to manage our workforce, and all of this without taking into account the fact that costs have risen by approximately 30% in recent years. There are countries such as Japan, which no longer have workers for the fields. Technology and robotics will now have to be our allies.
We are living in a time of technical challenges, performance of varieties, staffing problems, etc., which need a period of adaptation to survive in the future.
What is the present market context?
The weeks of heat wave in the summer have meant a drop in some varieties, but it has not affected the quality of the fruit, which is optimum. In short, less production, but very high-quality fruit. Furthermore, I think that the present circumstances will mean that the second part of the campaign will be favourable, amongst other factors, due to the important drop in production in Poland.
In this context of heat and climate change, what steps have been taken with the Fruit Futur project for apples adapted to warm climates?
The Hot Climate Program, in conjunction with New Zealand continues moving along as planned. At present, they are classifying the varieties which, so to speak, have an elite status. We will have coloured apples that will stand up to high temperatures. At the moment, a business plan is being prepared. Other countries in Asia, as well as us, are following this research very closely.
You have always advocated internal, local consumption, but you still have to export.
Yes, the optimum situation includes consumption on the mainland, but this is not possible according to the studies we have: only 55% of the apples that are eaten in Spain are Spanish. This figure is much lower than what we’d like, but I must say that not all the supermarkets act in the same way and there are some that are very aware of this type of action, which must be welcomed.
In general, with a few exceptions, agriculture is experiencing a very delicate moment, subjected to problems that are not only intrinsic to the sector, but being affected by global political and commercial problems. Farmers do not have the money available to renew their machinery or their plantations and the fact is that exports give us a break because they have become a reliable destination for some varieties.
In this respect, I must say that the Gala and Granny Smith exports have maintained their good level. With regard to Granny Smith, we have linked this season with the last one, without stopping supplies to the Gulf States. Unlike the national market, where the supermarkets push the prices hard at the expense of the quality, foreign countries do not do this and exported fruit is always top quality.
But doesn’t this cause a vicious circle in which the fruit is not eaten because it is not good and so, there is a drop in consumption? Exactly the opposite of the proposals made by the official institutions in order to fight obesity…
Indeed. There is no single message or coordinated actions and the problem of obesity continues to rise and it is becoming an important social expense, but it is difficult for those who buy from us to understand that the producer needs profitability because otherwise they will have to abandon the land. And there many messages that talk about the fact that there is too much ready-cooked food in the supermarkets and that “real food” hasn’t undergone any transformation process. I suppose that this idea will sink in, little by little.