Since 1998, he said Del Monte has participated on a voluntary basis in several national environmental programs, including Bandera Ecologica, a Costa Rican environmental compliance program sponsored and monitored by the Ministry of the Environment.
Eric Mora, researcher at the San Jose-based University of Costa Rica in San Jose, said conservationists are troubled by the fact pineapple needs to be managed with no natural ground cover. He said that use of herbicides on the crop has also raised concerns.
With the rising awareness of environmental issues, Mora said growers are becoming stricter with production practices, and organic acreage is growing.
“Organic pineapple is in a good position,” said Roger Vargas, controller for Proagroin, marketer of Costa Rica organic pineapples.
He said 35% to 40% of the company’s acreage is organic but there are plans to convert it all to organic within several years. The firm markets seven to 10 containers of organic pineapples a week, and about 60 of the company’s 100 growers are producing organic pineapples.
Fueled by the popularity of the MD2 variety — developed by Coral Gables, Fla.,-based
Fresh Del Monte Co. Inc. and now widely produced throughout the industry — U.S. per capita consumption of fresh pineapple has increased from 3 pounds in 1999 to 5 pounds a person in 2007.
The MD2 variety was developed in Hawaii by Del Monte, and the variety was first planted in Costa Rica during the late 1980s by Del Monte. Now available to all growers, it dominates exports from Costa Rica.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Costa Rica’s fresh pineapple exports to the U.S. increased from $80 million in 2004 to $372 million in 2007.
The U.S. accounted for 52% of Costa Rica’s1.8 million metric tons of pineapple exports in 2005, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Most pineapple industry leaders say that growth is expected to continue.
European demand for Costa Rica fruit has been growing rapidly, and current stats show the European market takes about 55% of Costa Rican pineapples compared with 45% for the U.S., Chaves said.
Chaves said acreage appears to be up 15% to 20% this year, and another 10% to 15% increase is possible next year.
While the industry may consolidate, he expects production to continue to trend upward for the foreseeable future.
Chaves said pineapple acreage has nearly doubled in less than five years, to 111,000 acres of pineapple.