Chile cher­ries - the red tsunami

In Chile, cher­ries are re­ferred to as the Red Tsunami be­cause around 80% of the crop needs to be picked in the five weeks from late Novem­ber to the end of De­cem­ber.

The Orchardist - - Contents - By John Wil­ton

The ex­port cherry crop is es­ti­mated to be ap­prox­i­mately 97,000 tonnes and ap­prox­i­mately 78,000 tonnes of these have to be picked in that five week pe­riod. By the time you con­sider the im­pact of ex­port pack­out, it is prob­a­ble that more than 100,000 tonnes are re­quired to be picked in those five weeks.

It is es­ti­mated that the full po­ten­tial of the 2016/17 cherry ex­port crop was 160,000 tonnes if grow­ing sea­son weather con­di­tions across the whole cherry in­dus­try had been favourable with no ad­verse cli­matic events. Data on past sea­son crops shows that their cherry crop has never man­aged to get any­where near the es­ti­mated po­ten­tial. The best they have achieved in re­cent years has been ap­prox­i­mately 65% of es­ti­mated ex­port po­ten­tial.

In 2016, of­fi­cial data on planted area es­ti­mated the area planted to be be­tween 24,000 and 25,000 hectares, up from around 13,000 hectares in 2010. Be­cause a lot of grow­ers raise their own trees, there are con­sid­ered to be sub­stan­tially more cher­ries planted, prob­a­bly well over 30,000 hectares

now and in­creas­ing at ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 hectares per year.

Present bear­ing area is ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 hectares.

As much of their planted area has yet to come into pro­duc­tion, the Chilean cherry crop pro­duc­tion will in­crease rapidly to­wards an es­ti­mated po­ten­tial ex­port pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity of 225,000 to 250,000 tonnes by 2020. Judg­ing by their past ex­port re­cov­ery, it is un­likely that much more than 60% of this po­ten­tial crop will be ex­ported. Even so, this is 135,000 to 150,000 tonnes and that is an aw­ful lot of cher­ries. Ap­prox­i­mately 27 to 30 mil­lion 5kg car­tons com­pared to the 20 mil­lion 5kg car­tons they are ex­port­ing at present.

Chile is very op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of cher­ries be­cause rel­a­tive to to­tal world cherry pro­duc­tion which is es­ti­mated to be 2.6 mil­lion tonnes, South­ern Hemi­sphere pro­duc­tion is only 4.3% of the to­tal. With so much pro­duc­tion in the North­ern Hemi­sphere, which is also in­creas­ing rapidly, the mar­ket is be­ing ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date this pro­duc­tion so this will pull “off” sea­son South­ern Hemi­sphere niche mar­ket de­mand along with it.

In re­cent years, Chi­nese cherry pro­duc­tion has the most rapid growth rate ex­pand­ing from 140,000 tonnes in 2006-2008 to 250,000 tonnes in 2015. Among South­ern Hemi­sphere ex­porters, Chile dom­i­nates with be­tween 87% and 90% of the to­tal, fol­lowed by Aus­tralia, New Zealand and then Ar­gentina. There are also very small amounts from South Africa.

At present 82% of their cherry crop goes to China. 17.6 mil­lion 5kg car­tons are be­ing ex­ported there giv­ing a farm gate re­turn of US$5 per kilo­gram. They think the mar­ket po­ten­tial in China maybe al­most 30 mil­lion 5kg car­tons but to ex­pand the Chi­nese mar­ket to that vol­ume would see farm gate re­turns fall to US$3 per kilo­gram, a re­turn they be­lieve their more ef­fi­cient pro­duc­ers could sur­vive.

USA is their sec­ond most im­por­tant mar­ket tak­ing 6.4% of present ex­ports. The rest of Asia in­clud­ing Korea takes 3.7%, Latin Amer­ica 2.4% and Europe 1.3%. It is clear that they need to put more ef­fort into mar­ket diver­si­fi­ca­tion. The Latin Amer­i­can economies are de­pressed at the mo­ment due to low prices for their main ex­ports be­ing oil and min­er­als. When these economies re­cover, Latin Amer­ica will ab­sorb more of their cherry crop and may be­come an out­let for lower value grades and sizes. As vol­ume goes up, it will be nec­es­sary to im­prove qual­ity, par­tic­u­larly drop­ping smaller sized fruit from their pre­mium mar­kets to main­tain price and grower re­turns.

As far as I can as­cer­tain most of the Chilean cherry crop is shipped by sea freight. Ship­ping times are: This means that by the time taken on shore lo­gis­tics and move­ment through the mar­ket­ing chain in the im­port­ing coun­try is fac­tored in fruit could be up to 60 days be­tween tree and con­sumer. This is a big ask for a highly per­ish­able sum­mer­fruit.

Chile has done an in­cred­i­ble amount of re­search and de­vel­op­ment into cherry post-har­vest be­hav­iour and con­trolled at­mos­phere stor­age us­ing semi per­me­able poly­thene film de­signed to con­trol gas ex­change to achieve this length of stor­age life.

Har­vest­ing ma­tu­rity is also crit­i­cal for long term stor­age. For ac­cept­able out­turn, cher­ries need to be har­vested rel­a­tively early in their ripen­ing pe­riod at the red to dark red colour stage. As cherry fruit size and weight in­creases rapidly through the ripen­ing pe­riod hav­ing to har­vest this early must be re­duc­ing yield and fruit size po­ten­tial. In­ci­den­tally, for mar­ket ac­cep­tance, cherry stems must ap­pear fresh and green and this is a real chal­lenge in their hot cli­mate. To main­tain stem colour picked fruit needs rapid cool­ing. I am sure their rapidly ex­pand­ing cherry crop is go­ing to put real pres­sure on their abil­ity to har­vest and pack the crop swift enough to achieve the nec­es­sary stor­age and qual­ity re­quire­ments.


Re­cent plant­ing data shows the fol­low­ing va­ri­eties are the ones most widely planted in re­cent years.

Bing is still an im­por­tant va­ri­ety for them and among the newer va­ri­eties Skeena and Kor­dia have been planted in re­cent years. Kor­dia is a very high qual­ity shy crop­ping va­ri­ety har­vested in late mid sea­son and is fol­lowed by Regina, an­other shy crop­ping, high qual­ity va­ri­ety. At present, both these va­ri­eties com­mand higher prices than Bing, Lap­ins and Sweet­heart.

Colt in the dom­i­nant root­stock for self fer­tile pre­co­cious va­ri­eties such as Santina, Lap­ins and Sweet­heart, as well as Bing. Gisela 6 is the pre­ferred root­stock for shy crop­ping va­ri­eties such as Regina and Kor­dia. Other root­stocks they use in­clude Max­ima 14, Gisela 5 and 12. Max­ima 14 pro­duces a tree ap­prox­i­mately 70% the size of Colt and is gen­er­ally more pro­duc­tive than Colt un­der their con­di­tions be­cause it stands up to their harsh, cen­tral val­ley cli­mate bet­ter than the more dwarf­ing Gisela root­stocks. Gisela 12 gives a tree 60% the size of Colt, Gisela 6 is 50% of Colt and Gisela 5, 40% of Colt.

Ap­prox­i­mately 70% of the Chilean cher­ries are planted at medium den­si­ties such as 4.5 x 2.5m to 4.0 x 2.0m and the trees trained as sin­gle leader pyra­mid sim­i­lar to a medium den­sity ap­ple tree. They put a lot of ef­fort into forc­ing branches up the leader us­ing tech­niques such as bud notch­ing and growth reg­u­la­tors to in­crease lat­eral branch num­bers. As trees age, they cy­cle branches to re­place older ones with new ones by stub­bing back to en­cour­age new shoot growth.

There has been a lot of study on tree be­hav­iour and the ef­fect of spur age, light ex­po­sure, leaf area and num­ber has on fruit is well doc­u­mented. They try and grow the crop on spurs aged be­tween two and four/five years be­cause this is where the best qual­ity fruit is found.

While the ma­jor­ity of cherry plant­ings are medium den­sity, sin­gle leader, there is a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion look­ing into dif­fer­ent tree man­age­ment and in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion with the ob­jec­tive of re­duc­ing tree height, in­creas­ing yield and qual­ity and im­prov­ing har­vest ef­fi­ciency.

In­ten­sive or­chards on dwarf­ing root­stocks are re­ceiv­ing a lot of at­ten­tion where cli­mate and soil qual­ity suit these weaker

Fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tion is based on pro­duc­tion and as far as I can as­cer­tain from the data they pre­sented at the sem­i­nar, fer­tiliser ap­plied for a 10 tonne crop maybe:

Fer­tiliser tim­ing for ni­tro­gen amounts ap­plied varies de­pend­ing on root­stock vigour. Potas­sium ap­pli­ca­tion amounts and tim­ing are sim­i­lar for all root­stock and vigour cat­e­gories, 70-80% pre­flower and 2030% posthar­vest.


For fruit qual­ity crop loads need to be care­fully con­trolled. Cherry size sells. Their crop hus­bandry spe­cial­ists have tapped in pub­lished re­search on crop load and backed up by their own ex­pe­ri­ence are ad­vo­cat­ing the fol­low­ing pa­ram­e­ters.

Quite a lot of ef­fort goes into man­ag­ing crop load. Cher­ries have com­plex buds so as well as spac­ing buds there is also some within bud thin­ning done in the dor­mant pe­riod. There would also be fruit thin­ning af­ter fruit­set where fruit­set is too high.

As their mar­kets come un­der sup­ply pres­sure, I am cer­tain more ef­fort will be put into elim­i­nat­ing the lower value small size fruit. As far as I as­cer­tain, they have not had much suc­cess with blos­som burner chem­i­cal thin­ners to date.


The vol­ume and qual­ity of the Chilean cherry crop is very de­pen­dent on the weather at crit­i­cal phe­no­log­i­cal stages in the tree. Al­though Chile has a huge range of cli­mate and mi­cro cli­mate, the bulk of their cherry pro­duc­tion is in the cen­tral val­ley and river val­leys run­ning be­tween it and the coast in re­gions VI and VII be­tween San­ti­ago and Linares.

There has been some de­vel­op­ment north and south of these re­gions, in­clud­ing a small area in the far south east of the An­des fo­cus­ing on late pro­duc­tion. Lack of win­ter chill­ing in mild win­ters lead to poor bud break and weak flow­er­ing. Analysis of crop per­for­mance be­tween 2006-2007 and 20162017 in­di­cates that in three sea­sons over that pe­riod, win­ter chill­ing has been in­ad­e­quate.

Stress and high tem­per­a­tures in the posthar­vest pe­riod af­fects flower de­vel­op­ment and in sen­si­tive va­ri­eties can lead to mal­formed fruit.

Weather con­di­tions at flow­er­ing time, par­tic­u­larly rain, weak­ens fruit­set.

Spring frosts

Pre­har­vest rain

There is a lot of ef­fort go­ing into man­ag­ing these prob­lems. Hy­dro­gen cyanamide dor­mancy break­ers are used where win­ter chill­ing is con­sid­ered a prob­lem. In warm re­gions where frost risk is low, it is ap­plied to early va­ri­eties in July and in colder lo­ca­tions where there may be frost risk, ap­pli­ca­tion may be made to later va­ri­eties dur­ing the first week of Au­gust. Where there is good frost pro­tec­tion, these va­ri­eties maybe sprayed in late July.

There is re­search go­ing into ways of re­duc­ing posthar­vest heat stress in­clud­ing ap­ply­ing Kaolin film prod­ucts. Pre­har­vest rain

is a big prob­lem for them. Many or­chards have rain cov­ers. Oth­ers at­tempt to blow wa­ter off the trees as soon as rain stops. There are a num­ber of com­mer­cial biofilms be­ing in­ves­ti­gated such as “Crack­gard”, “Parka” and “Rain­gard” ap­plied as a three or four spray pro­gramme from straw colour stage.


Chile will clearly dom­i­nate the South­ern Hemi­sphere ex­port cherry busi­ness. Their rapidly in­creas­ing cherry pro­duc­tion will force them to di­ver­sify into other mar­kets, par­tic­u­larly North Amer­ica and Europe to main­tain their mar­ket re­turns in China at a prof­itable level. Ar­gentina, while not an im­por­tant ex­port cherry pro­ducer at present, could also start to grow its ex­port cherry busi­ness.

At present, the Chilean cherry prod­uct is a bulk one be­ing stretched to the mar­gin of the prod­uct’s stor­age po­ten­tial.

This is a very dif­fer­ent mar­ket from the high-end out­lets our cherry in­dus­try is sup­ply­ing with our fresh air freighted prod­uct. Com­ments made to me by Chilean col­leagues who have seen our prod­uct in china say that our fresh prod­uct makes theirs look old and tired.

We should also recog­nise that the early ma­tu­rity win­dow they have to har­vest at to max­imise stor­age life, re­duces yield po­ten­tial as well as fruit qual­ity. Our fo­cus should con­tinue to be the high end “niche” mar­ket where there are suf­fi­cient re­turns to sup­port air freight­ing the prod­uct. In these, in re­spect of Asia, we are well placed with nu­mer­ous com­mer­cial direct flights into many Asian des­ti­na­tions, whereas Chile has no direct flights into Asia. We are also well placed for freight char­ter flights too be­cause we are only 10 to 12 hours fly­ing time away from the mar­ket.

Sea freight time for us will be about half theirs too, but sim­i­lar for North Amer­ica. It is pos­si­ble as the Chilean cherry in­dus­try comes un­der sup­ply pres­sure for their sea freight prod­uct, some of their more pro­gres­sive grow­ers will be­gin to move into the high-end top qual­ity mar­ket. If this oc­curs, it is most likely that their fo­cus will be largely on the early sea­son mar­ket aim­ing at the gap be­tween the end of the North­ern Hemi­sphere crop and the be­gin­ning of their high vol­ume pe­riod when mar­ket sup­ply is thin.


The pre­sen­ters on the cherry in­dus­try at the Po­manova, June 2017 sem­i­nar and in par­tic­u­lar, Car­los Tapia, Hor­ti­cul­tural Con­sul­tant Os­car Ortega, Hor­ti­cul­tural Con­sul­tant, Os­car Car­ra­cos, who’s pre­sen­ta­tions pro­vided most of the back­ground in­for­ma­tion for me on cher­ries.

Fig 5. Dor­mant/late dor­mant bud thin­ning is some­times prac­tised to re­duce fruit num­bers set­ting on com­pound spur sites.

Fig 4. Branch­ing on a two year old por­tion of a young cherry tree leader. The swelling on the leader is due to high rates of growth reg­u­la­tor used to stim­u­late bud break. Note the use of tooth picks for widen­ing crotch an­gles.

Fig 3. Kor­dia cherry trees in blos­som. The root­stock here is Max­ima 14, plant­ing den­si­ties 4.5 x 2.0m. Sin­gle leader train­ing with nu­mer­ous small branches. Tree age is ap­prox­i­mately five years.

Fig 2. Typ­i­cal, ma­ture cherry or­chard. Note nu­mer­ous hor­i­zon­tal branches and furled up rain cov­ers, pro­tected by black poly­thene wrap­ping.

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