Numerous topics were coverd during the second edition of the South American Blueberry Convention (SABC) which took place on April 18, including an overview of the South American season, genetics and post-harvest, logistics, and frozen fruit with panels led by leaders of the Chilean, Peruvian, and Mexican blueberry industry.
At the fourth panel, called “Drivers of global growth,” Juan Jose Flores, General Director of Aneberries Mexico, spoke about the Mexican blueberry industry and emphasized the importance of producing a high-quality product while caring for three essential components: food safety, environmental and social issues, and phytosanitation.
Flores said that events such as the SABC, International Blueberry Association, and North American conventions are a great opportunity to gather and work together to turn challenges into opportunities and increase global fruit consumption.
“The berry industry in Mexico as a whole has positioned itself better than products like avocado and beer, which are leading exports in Mexico,” said Flores. “However, this growth brings along a series of challenges when it comes to lands, labor, water use, and logistics.”
The social impact of the industry, according to Flores, is what Aneberries is focused on, making sure that the industry provides well-paid and legal jobs while taking care of their workers which are essential to harvest since there is no machinery available for the crop structure of Mexican blueberries.
“Taking care of these aspects, along with sustainability in the industry, we are currently exporting to 22 markets worldwide. This season we produced 80,000 tons of blueberries with around 96% of them, or 77,000 tons exported, mainly to the U.S. market, positioning Mexico as the sixth biggest blueberry exporter in the world,” said Flores.
In Mexico, the blueberry industry generates nearly 90,000 jobs, and of this, around 50% are women, who Flores says are very efficient and careful when harvesting the fruit, something very important considering how delicate this fruit is and the fact that 99% of it is harvested by hand.
With strong investments from blueberry companies in new regions like Sinaloa, the focus is on new varieties, as Flores assures that old varieties will progressively be out of the market, with consumers and importers demanding higher quality, firmer and bigger fruit.
“Beyond pest resistance and volume, what we are looking for is better yields, more taste, and better travel consistency. Therefore, we will see varieties like Biloxi and Legacy which will pretty much disappear throughout the next three seasons,” Flores asserted.
Flores says that it is still hard to use big machinery to harvest, even though some producers in the northern state of Sinaloa are testing this technology in farms of 50 or 100 hectares.
“However, in the main central producing region, we won’t be seeing this technology yet,” added Flores.
Mexico still relies heavily on hand labor for harvesting.
Taking care of the industry through sustainability
Flores closed the panel by emphasizing the importance of sustainability in the Mexican industry.
Producers and exporters are aware of the sustainability demands from buyers and consumers in the market, especially in the U.S., their “golden market.”
“One of the big challenges of the industry is to take care of the water, with an effective and precise irrigation system. However, we must focus on water sources and public policies that take care of forests and other sources,” said Flores.
On the other hand, plastics are a big issue in the packing faze. Mexico tries to work with plastics that can be 100% recyclable because plastic is what concerns regulators in the U.S. the most.
“Sustainability, on the environmental side and in labor when working with the U.S. market is extremely important to keep our industry growing to the numbers we project,” concluded Flores.