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Spain - The future of blueberries in Huelva is a cause for concern

Huelva’s strawberry campaign has already finished for the second degree cooperative Onubafruit, which has sold around 36 million kilos. In the coming weeks, it will continue with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries until the end of June.

“The strawberry season started with a little delay, and the production peaked between March and April. The quality was good and the fruit could be marketed without problems, although at lower prices,” says Francisco Sánchez, manager of Onubafruit. “The campaign has finished sooner than usual, in the second half of May, since the good weather in the destination countries led to their local productions being ahead, leaving hardly any room to sell our strawberries. It has been a normal campaign, but with average prices between 15 and 20 cents lower than last year.”

As for raspberries, Onubafruit expects to finish the campaign with a harvest totaling approximately 10 million kilos. “We have produced 20% more raspberries this year, and we have also noticed an increase in the production volumes in general in Spain, and especially also in Morocco. This has caused prices to fall compared to last season, although the raspberry campaign has still been a good one.”

“We are proud of our exclusive varieties, considered by many to be the best in the market, with the flagship one being the Lagorai. These varieties promise to give us a great future; our customers are delighted,” says Francisco Sánchez.

As regards the blueberries, the cooperative expects to harvest 16 million kilos this season. This has been the berry undergoing the most difficulties due to the oversupply observed since April, which has led to prices collapsing below the production costs. According to Francisco Sánchez, two factors have led to this situation: the excess of cultivated area and, above all, the incursion of numerous inexperienced producers and marketers.

“This year, just like in previous campaigns, the volumes in Spain have grown significantly, and this has been happening also in other countries, such as Morocco and Portugal. Thus, there are more blueberries being produced than the market can absorb, so there is no balance between supply and demand. It also doesn’t look like this situation will be resolved soon, so the future of blueberries is a cause for concern. The thing is that, unlike strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, which can be easily removed and replanted each campaign in order to regulate the production, blueberries are shrubs that take years to produce. It doesn’t look like this crisis will end soon,” says Sanchez.

While some believe that the solution may be to open up the Chinese market, Francisco Sánchez says that, although very interesting and necessary, it entails quite high risks. “There is a very great distance between Spain and China, which makes it even more challenging to deliver a product able to meet the high standards demanded by Chinese consumers. It’s not as easy as you may think.” Onubafruit already makes shipments to South East Asia, to countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore or Indonesia.

According to the manager of Onubafruit, labor is one of the main challenges for Huelva’s berry sector, both now and in the near future. “Producers are dealing with serious difficulties to harvest their plantations on time, since there are not enough local people willing to work in the field, and sub-Saharan and Moroccan migrants do not arrive in time due to the numerous bureaucratic and administrative obstacles. One of the direct consequences of this situation is that, in many cases, the fruit ends up being harvested late, losing quality and value and causing complaints in the market. The lack of pickers is a serious problem; it is an issue that urgently needs to be talked about between the sector and the administrations in order to find a solution.”

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