A March 9 news release said: “However, it is important to consider that in general, there seems to be a consensus amongst the industry’s exporters and growers that the critical issues will be resolved within the next five working days, returning to relative normality.”
A March 12 release said: “The Chilean Exporters Association is still estimating that, with the exception of a short-term gap in arrivals this coming week, late-season shipments from Chile should be relatively normal.”
The mixed messages from Chile are to be expected, similar to the story of blind men and the elephant. Every man may touch a different part of the elephant and thus draw different conclusions than the next man. The man who grabs the tusk will have a different observation than the man who touches the ear.
One market observer I talked with this week said that reports of pricing conditions resembled the varied reports immediately just after the temblor.
After the earthquake, talking to five different people would yield five different pictures of just how bad things were. Likewise, talking to five different Chilean fruit marketers in mid-March provides wide-ranging perspectives, from f.o.b.’s as low as $16-18 per carton and as high as $30-32 per carton.
As I write this, the Chilean fruit market is trying to adjust to retail seedless grape prices as high as $4 per pound while at the same time green seedless grape volumes will reach a healthy 1.3 million cartons to the East Coast the week of March 19.
F.o.b. prices for green seedless grapes were expected to slide dramatically as marketers again try to recapture retail pricing closer to $1.50 to $1.99 per pound.
Given the market’s erratic ebb and flow of supply and demand caused by the earthquake – the USDA that for the week of March 12 only 4,000 U.S. retailers were promoting grapes compared with over 7,200 stores the previous week - the USDA should allow Chilean exporters and their U.S. counterparts more time.
The earthquake was a destructive force in Chile that will be felt for years to come, and the can-do spirit of growers and exporters should not count against the timely exercise of a humanitarian gesture.