Blueberries currently fall under the category of “other” on Peruvian produce multinational Camposol’s financial statements, which are dominated by avocados and asparagus. However, with the help of a US$100 million capital expenditure injection, chief commercial officer José Antonio Gomez says the company will find its ranks among the world’s leaders in plantations of this booming berry. He tells www.freshfruitportal.com about the bold ambitions of an almost hydroponic scheme to develop Peru’s biggest agroindustrial project, in the desert.
It began with a vision to capitalize on an apt market window, gained financial backing this year from the sale of a fishing company to the Chinese, and in the space of a few years is set to become a reality that will provide jobs for 20,000 people in the sandy surrounds of Chavimochic.
As grandiose as the forecast may sound, Gomez is confident Camposol is capable of achieving this level of rapid growth in the soft fruit. It’s been done before with other crops after all.
“When we decided to enter into the avocado business we started in a joint venture with Mission Produce almost 15 years ago, and when we saw the business was viable and profitable, from 2008 in practically 2.5 years we planted 1,700ha of avocados,” he says.
“So agriculturally we know that we have the capacity, we have a team of 14,000 people and this amount of people gives us the confidence that we can support the growth of the company, and the capital is there.”
By the end of 2016, Gomez aims to plant 1,800ha of blueberries, adding to the current surface area of 200ha; an amount even greater than the surge in avocado planting witnessed five years ago, back when Gomez was in the executive team at Chiquita Brands.
Big blueberry plans have been on the cards for a while but were only officially put in the budget at the company’s board meeting recently. Cashed up from the sale of its stake in Copeinca to China Fishery Group, Dyer Coriat Holding – Camposol’s majority shareholder – lifted its stake to around 90% and took a punt on the antioxidant-rich blues.
“The investment total for 2014, 2015 and 2016, between plants, packing and more teams is US$100 million,” Gomez says.
“We will continue planting Biloxi as we have been doing with 500ha in 2014 and 500ha in 2015.
“We estimate that this project probably will be the biggest agroindustrial project that has been developed in Peru without a doubt, and probably one of the biggest agroindustrial projects in the world.”
Gomez estimates US$40 million will be spent next year alone, while in conjunction the company will continue its test plots of licensed varieties from nurseries such as Fall Creek, Driscoll’s and the University of Florida. The existing mainstay Biloxi is royalty-free.
“In 2016, based on the results of the other tests we have thought about starting developing other varieties – the idea is to reach the end of 2016 with 2,000ha, although there might be some adjustments.
“At its peak it will have a population working on the harvest that could reach 20,000 people. In terms of volume we expect this plantation will produce close to 30,000MT – that is double the exports of Argentina and Uruguay combined.”
He estimates that at that point, 70% of volume will go to the U.S. with a production window between September and December.
“In terms of volume, when this plantation is in full production and if we put the fruit in maritime containers, we will be speaking of 40-50 containers per day during the peak period over four weeks.
“If we are speaking of air freight, we will have to charter four planes of 50MT daily.”
This year he says the company has exported close to 800MT of blueberries.
“The majority of volumes have been air freight at 60%, and 40% has been sea freight.
“They have gone to different markets – we started with exports to Hong Kong initially. From there we did exports to Europe and the U.S.
“We have worked with different companies and with our offices in Europe and the U.S., and we have also sent fruit to Wal-Mart, Morrison’s in the U.K. and other distributing companies like Driscoll’s, Oppenheimer and Gourmet Trading.”
While the Chavimochic project in Libertid is an optimistic one for Gomez, he says it does not come without its challenges.
“In general we are in a zone that has allowed us to develop many products, and blueberries are just one of them, but risks do exist.
“It is a desert zone, we are developing on sand and there are climatic risks, high temperatures, water risks in the sense that we depend on irrigation canals for the project, and there are pest risks because it is such a large monoculture.
“But the benefits for us are that our operations are there so it’s easier to integrate our crop into the operations we already have and we already have the labor force that exists and the plants.”
When asked about the possibility of organic production, Gomez ruled it out for blueberries in the area under current conditions.
“We do an agriculture that we could consider almost hydroponic, so the nutrients that go to the plants through ferti-irrigation systems.
“The types of organic fertilizers that go through this system of hoses in drip irrigation are not there.
“An organic business is not sustainable doing this agriculture in sand – if we had valley soils with nutrients it’d be easier, but unfortunately where we are it is difficult.”