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Agro-Chile: Viticulture an evolution in time

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Some years ago Chilean Viticulturist Italo Schiappacasse started with a spare area using his many grape varieties to test his new open Gable growing system. He has been attentive to the demands of the overseas markets, and better still, he has them at his fingertips.

Difficult. This is how last season’s table grapes have been described, generating the need for change. Many have opted to incorporate new varieties, which in some cases can fulfil the function of replacement and, in others, it complements. However, the key to success is to anticipate the changes that will be required in the future due to changes in consumption and new market demands. This was understood by Italo Schiappacasse, who is dedicated to the production and export of his grapes in the fourth region. Some years ago, he managed to anticipate the market’s future needs.

The key? To know the needs and requirements before anyone else.

His beginnings in agriculture go back to the early age of sixteen when, due to family necessity and being the eldest of four brothers, he began to work in a small plot of about twelve hectares by himself. In 1979, thinking about its growth potential, it was planted with table grapes, which corresponded mainly to Flame and Thompson varieties.

At that time, he recalled, a national market was observed with the possibility of producing vegetables and Pisquera grapes, but this was a slow growth profile. “We chose to look for a path that we saw could grow over time,” he said. And so it turned out. “Subsequently, there was a tremendous boom in the export of table grapes, so there was little chance of buying more land with his budget.

From there, he began to rent properties from neighbours and over the years, he was able to buy some extra land which he continued to do over time, always in the same area, ” he recalls adding that he owns twelve blocks now located between Vicuña and Paihuano, which total 300 hectares, of which 180 hectares are planted with table grapes.

Anticipating change

New demands of the markets are a current reality, but it is not new. It has been happening for a long time, starting as a trend. But to this is added the speed with which the markets are now evolving.

As Italo recalled, ten years ago, consumption habits took about twenty years to change, whilst today everything happens very quickly, which requires having as soon as possible the supply of products or production of new varieties that the market demands.

This is precisely what this producer understood and accomplished. In his case, it had his own export activity, which made him realise it sooner than most.

With the passing of time, the Agroindustrial Society ISS Ltd, the productive area of his company, Agrexport was added, the entity in charge of making the shipments of his products, which allowed them to have a very direct relationship with the final consumer, that is to say, the North American, European supermarkets, and many other markets to which they are shipped.

“That’s why we started to react to these changes three years ago when we introduced a replacement program,” he says, adding that in the last two years, they have planted about eighty hectares of new varieties, of which a large volume will enter production in the subsequent season.

Sugra 14, Sweet Celebration, Timco, Timson, Alison and Krissy are the varieties that make up the replacements they have been making and that add to the traditional Thompson, Red Globe, Superior and Flame. In this case, more than a replacement. It is about incorporating new varieties since they do not come to replace but to complement the pre-existing supply.

“Today La Flame ” is well questioned, but I think the discussion focuses on the product, not the variety. La Flame in California produces fruit of good size (18 to 20 mm) and with good productivity. Flame sells well in the market. That is, the variety is not vetoed. But it is harder for Chile to reach these calibres with the fruit of good colour and healthy. Suppose you arrive with a good Flame, with a good product. In that case, the fruit will be sold, and maybe it will be sold very similar to what a new variety fruit is worth “, he adds that each producer must look for mechanisms to count with a product different from the one that the industry offers today.

But there is a factor that the new varieties play in favour compared with the traditional ones: greater productivity. And according to Italo, a new one may produce around 3,500 crates without significant effort, while a traditional one can produce between 2,500 and 3,000 crates but with more work. With this criterion, the agricultural performs precisely the selection of the conventional varieties.

“Today we are concerned to select those that comply with that standard of production, the old ones that did not meet them and were not able to produce traditional varieties of good quality and condition are not being cultivated,” he summarizes.

This is how the company has evolved in time and anticipated other players in the industry. Although all are aware of the requirements of the markets, which in their opinion, may influence this decision regarding the incorporation of new varieties, in general, it is associated with the payment of a royalty, which leads to a commercial scheme with whom sublicense the varieties. “Having that fruit is a bit more complex because you have to give it to a particular exporter. However, mechanisms have been sought so that the producer can reach a specific final customer, “he clarifies.

With these additions, there is an offer according to the market’s needs, which is also influenced by another type of change: the Open Gable. This growing system has comparative advantages.

OPEN GABLE: The new plantations system

This farm has a production of 360,000 crates of grapes carried out under the Spanish Parron growing system. However, he started testing Open Gable on a hectare planted last season, where he had already visualised its advantages. Its main quality is that it allows one to work with the fruit within reach of the hands of the people and not above their heads.

It is estimated that there could be about 30% savings in labour costs between an Open Gable driving system compared to a Spanish one, “says Schiappacasse.

Under this system, the plant grows about 1.40 meters high. From there, the wood is driven to the sides, where most fruit will be concentrated. This provides another advantage: the plant has a lower energy consumption because it should not reach up to two meters and have a lot of wood. So Italo Schiappacasse’s future plans point to the upcoming plantations targeting this growing system.

Fruit with an international destination

All fruit produce seconds, which in this case, Don Italo destined for the production of raisins, taking advantage of 100% of the fruit in this way. These are mainly the discards of packing or parron that correspond to grapes or clusters that do not meet the quality standards required to be exported. Either as fresh grapes or as raisins, 100% of the fruit of this company has a final export destination, which in the first case is made through Agrexport, and in the second, using third parties.

The high production level compared to local fresh grape consumption, coupled with the amount of supply that exists, were the factors that have led this company to devote itself purely to export and not allocate any of its volume to the domestic market. So today, the United States and Asia are ranked as the main destinations, with 40% of shipments in each case, while the other 20% go to Europe, a market that qualifies as complementary. This is because it requires fruit of another type of quality, an area in which they could add to Mexico.

Efficiency Technologies

The destination markets analyse different parameters of the fruit they receive, emphasising quality and condition. That is why the use of technology to achieve them is vitally relevant. In the opinion of Italo, the packing and the cold storage are vital because the fruit they harvest should be packed in an environment that prevents deterioration and dehydration of the product.

Vicuña is characterised by a dry climate associated with a minimum of fungal diseases. So Italo qualifies it as friendly for the production of table grapes and that it generates good colour and healthy fruit, which are also influenced by the lack of rainfall.

However, something that affects this area of the country is drought. “The North, in general, is with a permanent drought because, in a good year, it rains 80 mm. For eight years, we had very dry periods, with the last one about three years ago, where the dams of Puclaro and the lagoon were relatively dry, and we only irrigated with the river’s water, “he says.

But in this company, efficiency has been imposed as far as technologies are concerned. So in the irrigation area, they implemented a system that aims to use the water the crop needs most efficiently. “Five years ago, we irrigated one hectare with 13,500 cubic meters of water, but today we have humidity sensors associated with irrigation software, which tells us how much water the plant needs and when to supply it.

With this, we have managed to lower water consumption to between 8,500 and 9,000 cubic meters per hectare, depending on the variety “. The same is true in fumigations, where once a hectare was fumigated by applying 2,000 litres of water with a product, applications can now be made using only 100 litres of water per hectare.

These are the latest technologies that have been incorporated into this company, and while they are constantly analyzing which are possible to add, the diagnosis of Italo is that, for now, there is not much more that can be done. “In the table grape, 65% of the costs are in labour; in this sense, we still have no alternatives available that can be incorporated to replace the labour or make production more efficient,” he emphasizes.

Product diversification?

Some time ago, within the products offered, the company Capel’s Co-operate also had Pisquera grapes, a crop that today has virtually no production. As Italo Schiappacasse recalls, at one time, they produced a million kilos of this type of grape. Eventually, they became old Parrones, producing very little, while the prices of these grapes fell considerably. “In the upper valleys, it is difficult to produce Pisquera grape in high volumes because the climate is arid; producing 25,000 kilos per hectare was not profitable to continue, ” adding that they do not plan to re-incorporate it, even in those areas which have been changed to table grapes.

But expanding your product basket is not something you reject entirely. First, the objective is to consolidate the current growth to produce around 500,000 crates of grapes with the plantations they already own. That’s when I could think of diversifying the production matrix, also cultivating citrus fruits, which adapt very well to the dry climate zone.

Schiappacasse clarifies that there are crops of clementine that have done well in production and date of harvest, plus it has a different installation cost than the grape and demands less labour.

Working together

There were many products in the marketplace that did not correspond to the quality that was sought. Thus, the fruit was accumulated at the destination, and the marketing was complicated for all arriving, resulting in lower income. This was the panorama experienced in the table grape industry in recent seasons. Despite it, Italo Schiappacasse is optimistic. Warns that this season there will be a much smaller offer in volume and a lot better quality, which can be sold very quickly.

But in his opinion, there is a point at which the whole fruit industry must move forward, and it is a fact of being united to look for common goals, such as markets or soft financings for investments. These aspects are difficult to achieve on an individual basis.

“If it is a united industry or producers ‘ associations where they can join forces for a common goal, I think it can be achieved. You could try to have a more business-friendly infrastructure financing and put pressure on the markets to search for new ones, “he suggests that cooperatives are ideal.

One of the pillars of the Ministry of Agriculture is to enhance the associativity and creation of cooperatives, however, knowing very well the case of Capel, Schiappacasse assures that they are tough to function efficiently.

The table grape industry has been challenged and still faces several challenges. However, Italo feels optimistic, and all the difficulties he has overcome until today give him a good reason. The key is to listen to the needs of the markets but, above all, to be one step ahead.

Source: Mundo Agro CL

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