Chilean Earthquake update
Posted on Wed, 03/03/2010 - 13:04Submitted by Your Produce Man on Wed, 03/03/2010 - 13:04
I have been to Chile twice. Both times, I was so impressed with the high tecnhology of their produce industry, from their farms to their packing to their exporting. Years ago, they were trellasing their table grapes 7 feet high, allowing the grape clusters to dangle underneath the leaf canopy, making it easier to harvest, which meant less handling of the grape clusters. They were even trellasing their Plum trees, which is why their Plums are always so huge. I was impressed with how hard they work, the long hours they put in to make sure of fruit quality and food safety. And now I am impressed with their ability to come back so quickly from the brink of catastrophe. The Chileans have been planning for the "big one" for decades. Their preparations have paid off. On the day of the earthquake, a ship was was being loaded, and was able to leave port safely with its full load. Right now, there are about 15 - 20 ships on the sea, heading to North America, loaded with fruit. They have been loading ships almost every day since the earthquake. Don't get me wrong. There will be some shortages of some summer fruit and grapes, and In the major port of Valpairiso, two berths were undamaged, two were slightly damaged, and two were closed because of damage. Every day, since the earthquake, the port has continued to load ships. In fact, just yesterday, 5 ships were loaded and left. Right now, there are 15 - 20 ships on the ocean heading to North America loaded with Stonefruit and Grapes. The summer fruit season is about 75% for the season, which means we are on the downhill side of supplies. We are more affected with higher prices because of a late Spring freeze, rather than the earthquake. The late freeze has delayed or destroyed a lot of fruit. Right now, were are about 1.5 million cartons short from this same time last year. And it had nothing to do with the earthquake. Prices have been high all season long for Chilean summer fruit and grapes. The Chileans are most concerned about what we call in the produce industry, the "cold chain," keeping fruits at their optimum cold storage temperatures from the time they are picked, packed, shipped and distributed to stores. If any part of this cold chain is broken, you end up with fruit that is not nearly as fresh, tastes nearly as good, or lasts nearly as long. When electricity went out, some storage facilities lost their cooling capabilities. One particular storage facility had about 150,000 cartons of fruit. Because that "cold chain" was broken, that fruit will not be sent to North America, but will be diverted to other regions closer to Chile. There are USDA inspection facilities in Chile, and none of them were damaged. In fact, the USDA has continued to inspect fruit and berries every day since the earthquake, releasing product for shipments to the U.S. The Santiago International Airport is fully operational again, allowing air-shipments of tree-ripened Peaches and berries. Two days after the earthquake, the government sent out a survey to 5,000 farmers and produce shippers. The survey was to see what the impact was on the agricultural industry, and what needed to be done to keep the fruit exporting. Many growers and packers had electrical back-ups, so as of today, even with electricity out in some parts of the hardest hit regions, electricity is now keeping packing sheds and cooling facilities in operation. In talking with some growers, it was amazing that much of their concern was not with keeping the product flowing, but rather with their field workers and harvesters. They realize that it is difficult to hand pick and hand pack when your workers are concerned about personal recovery and protecting their homes and families. I was talking with some apple and pear growers in the Mauli Valley. They are just beginning their harvest season, and there were a lot of apples and pears on the ground after the big shakeup Saturday. Growers are still assessing what percentage of the apple and pear crop was damaged. Everyone in Chile has seen some damage of some kind, but it something to behold how fast the Chilean people are recovering. One person asked me, "If Chile was so prepared and so able to recover, why are they accepting international help?" That's an easy one. Once the Chilean government took an inventory of their emergency supplies of tarps and tents, they realized their supplies were depleated. Chile had sent them all...to Haiti. I could only hope that California was as prepared and able to recover when the big one hits here.