There has been a lot of talk about the (low) prices of peaches and nectarines over the past few days. After visiting a few wholesale markets and talking to some producers and cooperative directors, we can confirm that, while some produce is well paid, the rest is going through a crisis.
Big packaged grades, especially of the tastier varieties, have the best prices while undifferentiated produce grown only to obtain the best yields is often sold at a price that does not even cover production costs.
Luciano Zani, founder of GranFrutta Zani recalls that, when he first started in the 1960s, professionally-grown fruit was rare. "We used to have crises back then as well but, for example, one kg of Cardinal (yellow peach variety) cost 125 Lira and a labourer cost 118 Lira an hour."
Even considering that yields used to be lower than today, peaches should cost around €10/kg to be at the same level.
But what could be done to avoid these crises? There is no straight answer. Of course the scenarios changed radically. Nowadays, many countries produce good quality summer fruit and most of them have lower production costs.
First of all, we might try to talk to consumers about residue. The Italian produce is often more strictly monitored than the foreign one and we never use active principles.
Spanish nectarines in an Italian wholesale market (mid-July)
Secondly, the national sentiment should be stronger. France and Germany give precedence to the domestic produce while Italy does the opposite, as anyone can import from anywhere while some Italian products cannot even be shipped abroad.
Thirdly, we should produce less to earn more. It's a step that must be taken. If the market rewards big grades and good organoleptic qualities, we need to produce big nice products. There are no alternatives. We can do that by changing the mindset, varieties and thinning and pruning techniques.
Fourthly, we should select according to organoleptic qualities. It may look difficult, but companies such as Unitec have technologies that can do that. "A plant produces 35 different types of quality, so we can have 35 different types of consumers. So far, there are only 4 main sorting parameters in Italy but nothing connected to consumer flavour preferences," explains Angelo Benedetti from Unitec.
Lastly, cultivation should be ultra-specialised, i.e. some fruit should be grown only for the markets that are rewarding and the rest can be mass produce.
These are concrete solutions and, considering nothing changed over the past 20 years, it's worth trying to do something.
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