The Chilean nut industry has started the fruit harvest season and in this context, Juan Esteban Rodríguez, the President of the Chilean Association of Nut Producers and Exporters (Chilenut), spoke with Portalfruticola.com to analyze the current season, the challenges of the sector, and the destination markets.
Last year, the Chilean walnut industry achieved a total production of 187,000 tons, representing a 21% growth compared to the previous year, which was 154,000 tons. Regarding this, the president of Chilenut indicated, “This year, we estimate that the growth will be smaller, with a production increase of 2.1% compared to last year.”
For Rodríguez, the decrease in production growth is mainly due to the loss of productive hectares in areas where drought has strongly affected. He said, “Basically, the number of hectares or the amount of kilos that enter production each year is proportionally lower. Last year was the big jump, and from here on, we will have growth rates around what we are having this year.”
Considering that most producers are in the harvesting process, the president of Chilenut gave some recommendations to keep in mind for a good harvest, “since in two or three weeks, producers are gambling the result of the year. A bad harvest means openly that you made the worst decision, that you worked all year to get to this point and you made a mistake in the last stitch.”
He said, “Having a good harvest means starting at the right time, neither too early nor too late. Today, the market for selling nuts with shells is the best alternative. Therefore, if you harvest too early, it can end up in skinning and drying, with a lot of nuts with spots and skin adhered. In essence, we are taking away from the exporter the commercial opportunity to get the best out of the nut.”
He reinforces the relevance of having a good shell since otherwise, the nut must be split, and the ability to decide according to the fruit’s quality is lost. Juan Esteban Rodríguez said, “Today, the best return to the producer is the sale in shells. It is important to consider that not all nuts have the same characteristics of size, color, and pulp yield to be exported in shells.”
The president of Chilenut commented that currently, large hulling plants are incorporating rollers with brushes to improve the appearance of the shell-on nut. “They have incorporated better machinery, which allows us to have better shell quality and more efficient drying. In general, the industry is advancing.”
Regarding shipments of Chilean nuts, Rodríguez indicated that India and Russia are markets that demand high quality in terms of calibers and internal quality. “India likes very white nuts, that is, extra extra light, and Chile is the market that can provide them with that premium quality, therefore, our campaign is focused on reinforcing the attributes that Chilean nuts have.”
The president of Chilenut pointed out that about 6 years ago, India had no knowledge of Chilean nuts. “It started gaining ground due to its excellent quality and arrives for Diwali, which is India’s most important and representative festival.”
He added that there has been a significant jump in the consumption of Chilean nuts in India, thanks to the marketing campaigns that Chilenut began three years ago. “If you go to the markets in New Delhi, you can see the Chilean nut logo and Chilenut’s logo everywhere, on the stands, with giant posters; where people recognize the Chilean nut brand.” Additionally, he states that marketing campaigns use Indian influencers and Bollywood actresses.
He mentioned that all marketing campaigns are focused on freshness in off-season, which is one of the main attributes of Chilean nuts, coupled with good color and flavor, thanks to the weather conditions. “We have a very good climate to produce a high-quality nut, and that allows us to have a competitive advantage over California and other producers worldwide, to deliver a fresh product of better quality and color.”
According to Rodríguez, they are currently developing marketing campaigns in India and Germany.
Given the excellent quality of Chilean nuts, it is necessary to question the next step. When asked about the new challenges facing the industry, Juan Esteban Rodríguez indicated that producers must continue to produce quality fruit. “Today, the amount of kilos per hectare is not a factor of success, because 10 years ago, the best producer was the one who produced the most kilos and there was not a very big difference between calibers. Nowadays, the market is paying a premium for the larger calibers, at the expense of the medium and small calibers.”
In this sense, he indicated that producers are very concerned about pruning, something that was practically not done eight years ago, about keeping the orchards with a lot of rejuvenation, with a lot of light, and keeping the fertilization management up to date. “Basically, they are attentive to professionalizing production more and more. And that is the challenge we have in order to differentiate ourselves with a nut of very high quality, something that already part of the industry is doing,” said Rodríguez.
He pointed out that Chilean nuts are of very good quality, but producers must continue to do things right to maintain that excellent condition. Regarding this, the president of Chilenut commented, “Believing that we are the best and stopping doing things right would be the worst thing that could happen to us. Our challenge is to continue maintaining what we are doing, producing nuts of very good quality and caliber.”
Due to the good condition of Chilean nuts, Rodríguez highlighted that “in 2022, production was 187,000 tons, and we ended up with a 1% stock, compared to the United States, which ends the year with a 15% stock. Besides producing good quality, we are capable of selling all of our fruit, and 1% is something very manageable and normal. Therefore, we have the challenge of maintaining commercial dynamism that allows us to sell practically all of our fruit.”
Regarding the work of the Chilean Walnut Commission, its president mentioned that they seek to achieve greater representation of producers and exporters. “As Chilenut, we have a pending debt with the productive side and today we are conducting campaigns to try to add producers again and have a very high representation.”
He explained that many of the activities that Chilenut is doing are focused on re-encouraging producers to join the association. “We are developing field days, seminars with the aim of having an important technical focus, without neglecting the commercial part. Secondly, we have to continue being a reference in information issues, because good information allows for good decisions. We have the obligation to generate good, quality and timely information.”
Source: Portalfruticola.com and Chilenut.