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Pineapple problems extend from Thailand to Costa Rica

Friday April 01 2011

From: http://www.agra-net.com
Volume: 39  Issue: 13

THE extremely tight pineapple situation in Thailand (FOODNEWS 25 March) seems to be getting worse. The fruit price has increased again, FOODNEWS has been told, to THB8.00 per kg, equivalent to USD260 per tonne.

Because this is most definitely a farmers' market, in that they can sell every fruit they harvest, FOODNEWS has been told that farmers are stripping their fields of every pineapple they can find. This is creating problems for juice processors, because the ratio and brix content are not ideal; especially the ratio. Canners can always add more sugar to their syrup to sweeten the fruit, but juice processors have no easy fix.

Worse still, it seems that the farmers are harvesting fruit that would normally leave until the next processing peak: the winter crop, due in October/November. "They are even taking the fruit that is unripe or too small," said a contact. "This will impact on quality, or on the next season's harvest."

At the same time, the fresh market is weighing ever more heavily on raw material supplies. In 2008, it has noticed that Costa Rica was exporting more fresh fruit than ever before, and this was reducing supplies available for the country's prized NFC juice. It was originally thought the fruit was going to Russia, but investigation revealed that it was actually destined for European, and especially German, supermarkets (FOODNEWS 19 September, 2008).

This trend is becoming more pronounced. Moreover, as one perceptive contact noted, France used to source a lot of its fresh pineapple from Ivory Coast (a former French colony). The civil war in that country has slashed its fresh pineapple exports to about one-third of its 2005 levels, and France has had to source its fresh pineapple from other countries. Ivory Coast produces mostly Queen pineapple, and France, like other European countries, has discovered the delights of Costa Rica's MD2 fruit. French direct imports from Costa Rica soared five-fold between 2005 and 2009, and its imports via Belgium doubled in the same period. France is also taking vastly more fresh Costa Rican fruit via the Netherlands than it used to, only five years ago.

Costa Rica is now exporting well over twice as much fresh pineapple as it did in 2004, and while the country is later than most in filing its export trade data, the fact that it exported nearly 930 000 tonnes in the first half of 2010 suggests that the full-year figures will break all previous records. Certainly, according to Costa Rica's banana producer and exporter association Canapep, which also quotes figures for fresh pineapple production, exports were up 15% last year. Canapep says that Costa Rica is now the world's largest fresh exporter, producing 138 million 12kg boxes, worth USD657 million.

"To have reached the USD600 million mark shows what good work we have been doing," said Abel Chaves, president of Canapep.

A great deal of money has been invested in augmenting pineapple production productivity per hectare. This has been noted not only by Canapep, but also by FOODNEWS contacts who do business with the country. "They are putting down more and more fruit," said one. "Del Monte has huge lands in the south and they can just switch on or switch off juice production, according to US demand."

However, this season Costa Rica, too, has problems. Cold weather in the last few months has severely reduced the brix content of its fruit, and the brix level of its NFC juice has sometimes dipped below the 11.2% figure which the AIJN takes as the required minimum.

Some factories have stopped processing until the brix level recovers. Some have turned to producing concentrate instead, which has obviously required more processing to reach the 65 brix level that is normal for Costa Rican PJC. And some have sold the BNFC juice to countries that are not bothered about the AIJN minimums.

The AIJN and SGF, the German-based testing and quality organisation, are apparently both aware of the issue, and have issued a recent communiqué saying that they are reviewing the situation. It is being speculated that the AIJN will grant a temporary concession, though there has been no announcement to that effect.

Costa Rican pineapple ratios are not up to their normal level, either. "We had a call from one of our factories there," commented another FOODNEWS source, "saying they had a ratio of 17.2 for the fruit".

Another factor that is reducing the quantity of Costa Rican NFC pineapple juice is Del Monte's introduction of an NFC pineapple product in the Middle East (FOODNEWS 4 March) which is "having an effect on [NFC] availability", FOODNEWS was told.

Weather not favourable ahead of latest Thai pineapple crop

THAI pineapple traders are doubtful that supplies of the fruit will improve sufficiently to meet the current level of demand from the fresh and processed market when the summer harvesting season kicks off next month, with the limited rainfall a serious concern.

One Asia-based dealer who visited pineapple-growing regions in the country in the past few weeks said the weather is not favourable for pineapple growth. "When I visited, the whole area was very dry and there were even bush fires by the side of the road," he told FOODNEWS.

Heavy showers have fallen in western and southern areas of the country in the past week, which have helped to improve moisture supplies there, but dryness persists in eastern parts of the country (see Weather Watch, page 33).

"There is not enough water or rain for the pineapples, which is proving to be a nightmare for growers," the source said. "The growth of the fruit has been stagnated, meaning the pineapples will be smaller than usual this year."

A second trader agreed that prospects for the supply situation do not look promising. "I think it is going to be what we call a 'short' year for pineapple [in 2011]," he said.

Raw material prices have now reportedly hit THB8.0 per kg (USD0.26/kg) in the past week (see front page), up from THB7.00-7.5/kg last week and exceptionally high considering the new harvest is just a few weeks away.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's pineapple industry will ask for an extra allocation of funds from the government this year to increase output of the fruit as current production is unable to keep pace with overseas demand.

Johari Baharom, the deputy minister at the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, told local reporters that the Malaysian Pineapple Industry Board's (MPIB) was only able to export around 500 tonnes of pineapple last year, worth MYR74.0 million (USD24.4 million), which was half of its goal.

"This was just half the targeted amount of 1 000 tonnes. This year, MPIB targets to export 600 tonnes of pineapple worth MYR100 million," he said after opening a seminar on increasing pineapple productivity. He added that Sarawak and Sabah had the potential to be the country's biggest pineapple producers in a few years' time. Large-scale pineapple cultivation was introduced in Sarawak last year and in Sabah this year. His ministry has asked the area farmers' organisations to identify suitable idle land to be planted with pineapple as a supplementary crop.

"Since pineapple cultivation was introduced in the north zone (Perlis, Kedah and Penang), almost 2 000 hectares (5 000 acres) have been planted with the crop, providing satisfactory returns for the farmers," he added.

MPIB director-general Sahdan Salim said 50 farmers in Kedah with farms totalling 800 hectares (2 000 acres) have participated in the Contract Farming Scheme since 2009.

He said in the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2005-2010), MPIB provided incentives such as pineapple suckers, fertiliser and other agriculture inputs worth MRY8.35 million under the new planting programme involving 1 392 hectares of land.


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