The spread of the grapevine moth in Chile is causing some issues for grower-shippers, and with all but two growing regions currently required to fumigate, suppliers are preparing for the future.
In addition to blueberries, plums are also known to be at risk, along with grapes. The pest damages crops by rotting and dehydrating the fruit.
Fumigation has already become normal for most shippers.
“Systems are in place to control the grapevine moth, and we don’t anticipate any real issues. The main impact we expect is fewer organic blueberries available for the U.S. market,” said Matt Giddings, category coordinator for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif., said efforts to control the moth have increased.
“The National European Grapevine Moth Program has been running for a number of years, but it has become much more robust in the past year,” she said.
Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture recently doubled the country’s Agriculture and Livestock Service’s national program budget in hopes of stopping the spread of the moth, reducing pest populations and ultimately moving toward its eradication.
“The EGVM program has been revised to include the private sector. It also now includes table grape and wine grower associations, in conjunction with national and international EGVM experts from California and Spain,” Brux said.
In addition, Brux said the country has set aside more funds to support the efforts.
“Larger budgets have been allocated for increased surveillance, supervision, control techniques and research,” she said.
Some grower-shippers are cautiously optimistic that the current regulations will stand, allowing organic blueberries to continue being shipped from the unfumigated regions.
Others are more hesitant.
“There are possibly some growing regions farther south that may get away with not having to fumigate, but until I see that in writing, I’d say it’s not set yet,” said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla., agreed the problem could spread to other regions.
“Everyone hopes those regions will remain fumigation free, but that may not happen,” he said, mentioning that it’s difficult to control insects from moving from region to region.
In terms of the long-term outlook, Koukoulis said there is nothing to suggest this will be a temporary setback.
“There’s nothing really etched in stone that gives a good time table for this process. Nobody can say for sure that fumigation will be over in the next 18 or 36 months. We don’t know when we’ll eradicate this problem,” he said.
Crawford said he thinks it’s likely fumigation is here to stay, and that idea could mean a shift in the overall deal.
“If growers can ship to other countries without fumigating, I think we’ll see more competition with the U.S.,” he said.
Brian Bocock, director of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif., agreed.
“This, of course, challenges the potential volumes that could come to the U.S.,” he said.
“It’s something we have to contend with. We’ve done it in Argentina, so even though it’s new for Chile, we’ll deal with it,” Crawford said.
“Historically, Chile has been a region free of fumigation, but the majority now will have to be fumigated,” he said.
Overall, most grower-shippers are optimistic about how Chile is handling the problem.
“The country has responded very well to EGVM and is making progress,” Bocock said.