Chile eyes cherry production in northern regions.
The majority of Chile’s cherry volumes currently originate from the central-southern regions of O’Higgins and Maule, but researchers are now looking to breed new varieties of the lucrative fruit that would perform well in the Coquimbo region.
The evaluation comes at a time when neighboring Peru is also looking into starting up cherry production to supply fruit at a time when there are typically lower volumes available for international markets.
A representative of Chile’s Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA) told Fresh Fruit Portal private companies had long expressed an interest in expanding the industry away from the traditional growing areas.
Dr. José Manuel Donoso explained a test hectare with hybrid varieties near La Serena, the capital of the Coquimbo region, had been established in 2012. Since then the team have been able to make the first evaluations over the last two seasons.
“Last year we propagated them on rootstocks and this year they will be part of the new evaluation center that will be in Ovalle [also in the Coquimbo region],” he said.
“The good thing is that of the 5,000 plants that we brought to the north, we have identified about five plants with superior characteristics.The new center will include a six-hectare test site and will aid in the program’s varietal selection process, Donoso said.
The researchers are also now preparing to bring more genetic material from the central-southern regions that has a low chilling requirement and is harvested in early.
In addition, INIA is working with an institute in Spain’s Catalonia region that is going to send genetic material to Chile.
“There are some difficulties related to the development of this project, like the lack of useful genetics and the difficulties of growing a crop that traditionally adapts well to different climate conditions,” Donoso said.
The aim is to have at least two selections in the pre-commercial stage – meaning a minimum of 100 plants in commercial orchards – not just in the north of Chile but also in other warm areas of the world by 2024.
Donoso said the north of Chile would represent a “very desirable” niche for cherry production, as the fruit would be harvested earlier than the majority of volumes and likely fetch higher prices.
Diversifying the supply would therefore help to reduce concentration and provide work to people for longer.
“We are aiming for the supply of cherries to begin regularly from Oct. 15,” Donoso sai
Resistance to both diseases and fruit damage by way of splitting are other important aspects.