Sicily’s blueberry is entering the markets with its first harvests. While supplies of Chilean blueberry are in full season, the engines are warming up for the start of the European season. For the past couple of weeks, Morocco has been offering blueberries, mainly for the British market, and Spain is starting the season with the product from Huelva.
January and February is traditionally the time when the Ventura from Sicily also starts. This year, due to weather conditions, the season is delayed by about 15-20 days.
Italian Berry talked about it in anexclusive interview with Biagio Spataro, owner of the Azienda Agricola Sud Mirtilli di Biagio Spataro in Vittoria (Ragusa).
What are the conditions that led to the delay in the start of the 2022 season?
In particular, the very high temperatures that occurred during the 2021 end-of-season pruning season and continued throughout July and August. The scorching heat also caused sporadic plant deaths. This meant that we had to take the very first prunings in the first week of February, whereas last year we were already harvesting the first fruits in mid-January.
How do you foresee this season unfolding?
The product is of good size and quality, so we do not foresee any problems on the production side. As far as the market is concerned, we hope to be able to repeat last season’s results, which were positive overall.
What are the main challenges?
Certainly the production cost factor is a source of concern. All costs have increased significantly: fertilisers, plastics, packaging, gas, electricity, chemicals. These are double-digit increases that will have a not insignificant impact on our costs and potentially also on profitability.
Ventura remains the queen of blueberry varieties in Sicily?
From a quantitative point of view, Ventura is certainly the prevailing variety in Sicily. But we are currently field testing some more modern varieties that should overcome the limitations of Ventura, in particular the difficulty of management due to the high vigour that requires continuous topping and causes difficulties in pruning operations. The new varieties being tested may have a slightly lower productivity but they are easier to manage: at the end of the day, the combination of labour and productivity has a decisive effect on the final result.
In addition to the conventional product, are you experimenting with other cultivation methods?
Zero residue is a product for which we have mastered the technical aspects. However, these have to be compared with the market results: the higher costs due to lower yields and higher risks are at least EUR 0.50/kg and must be reflected in the higher revenues. Otherwise it is not worth it.
As far as organic is concerned, we are experimenting with 5,000 square metres cultivated with baulatura: in fact, cultivation in pots is not allowed in organic farming, so we are forced to recreate in the soil the acidity conditions that can be created with pot cultivation.
How long will your harvest season last?
We expect to harvest until the end of May; in any case, our aim is to finish early in order to have the best market conditions and to start pruning as soon as possible, so that we can anticipate the start of the 2023 season.
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