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“Berries are a breeder’s business”

Digital Berry Meeting, organised by Mercados magazine copyright. Mercados revista

© Mercados revista


The high mortality rate among strawberry plants and how this affects the sector’s profitability was addressed at the second Digital Berry Meeting, organised by Mercados magazine. In a discussion titled: ‘Current situation of strawberry varietal development’, representatives of breeding companies, nurseries and producers analysed the causes of this mortality, which can reach as high as 30%, as revealed by Alfredo Arcos, technical director of Fresón de Palos.

The increasing diversity of varieties, from 20 to 117 in just over 15 years, according to the National Association of Strawberry Nurseries, together with the absence of active materials for soil disinfection and crop treatment, and the constant demand for earlier plants have all given rise to a breeding ground that is seriously affecting the profitability of commercial nurseries.

“Our profitability has plummeted, especially in the last three years,” said Javier Palacios, president of the association, who went on to say that “the business belongs to the breeders, who face no risks, while our profitability is zero.” And although nurseries provide healthy plants to their customers, if any problem appears, “we are responsible”.

According to Palacios, nurseries work with the sole objective of minimising mortality; for this, they scrupulously select the initial plant and, from there, they carry out an exhaustive follow-up of the clones according to criteria of fruit quality, Brix level, and yield. “It is almost impossible for a mutant to escape,” he said. 

Nevertheless, strawberry plant mortality remains a problem with an increasingly difficult solution. In this sense, Alfredo Arcos regretted that, currently, the breeder companies focus on the search for earliness or yield, at the expense of other issues such as resistance. 

Juan Manuel Arenas, director of FNM, and Francisco Jover, technical director of Eurosemillas spoke of their roles. On the subject of the possible causes of the mortality mentioned by nurseries and producers, Arenas added one more factor: the impact of climate change on nursery plants. As breeders, Arenas stated that they have two main goals: to offer varieties with tolerance to pathogens; and to provide their associated nurseries with genetic materials with sufficient guarantees for multiplication, which they then monitor. 

At Eurosemillas, Francisco Jover stressed the low mortality of their varieties, which amounts to just 1-2%. The breeding company has been in the sector for more than 50 years and, today, has more than 40 varieties of different species, including berries.

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Divided berry market predicted

Divided berry market predicted, copyright. Mercados revista

© Mercados revista


The future of the berry sector was the focus of discussion at Mercados magazine’s Digital Berry Meeting. Agrifood consultant David del Pino made several predictions for the new reality that awaits us, but it will not contain the birth of a new world, rather a slowly growing appreciation for the work done by farmers. What is 100% certain, according to del Pino, is a deep economic crisis, which will accelerate the transformations that were underway and make individuals more selfish. This will lead to an increase in demand for healthy eating, which will favour the fruit and vegetable sector. Within this trend, there will be a further commitment to products with added value, and with rational, emotional, social and natural attributes.

However, del Pino foresees a divided market model similar to what some analysts had already pointed out at the beginning of the century. This implies a change in the behaviour of middle-class consumers, who will abandon the traditional consumption pyramid model. The middle class will disappear as a compact group and with a model of typical consumption behaviour. “Now they have more access than ever to premium and affordable products as a result of the crisis, but they will stop valuing the basics, as they have easy access throughout the year, with standard quality. This forces the sector to sell commodities at lower prices and to turn to products of prestige that have a perception of luxury, but that are affordable for mass consumption,” said del Pino.

Retailer have experienced problems responding to the traditional middle class now it is divided into basic and premium. High-level chains and discounters tend to enjoy strong growth in crises, according to Del Pino. The latter have spent years with a hybrid strategy of offering basic products at very low prices alongside premium products, thus responding to the bipolar model. “What we saw coming is happening; and the implications of this change are crucial for distribution and for producers because it forces them to choose one type of strategy or another, focused on commodity or hybrid. It is a trend that is already here,” said del Pino.

To conclude, del Pino advised caution and controlled liquidity, contracts, storage capacity, and many other factors to prepare for an unknown future.