"Despite the fact that last year's cold weather and frost led to a loss of around 30% of strawberries, the drop in value was only 5% with an increase of the price paid to partner producers of €0.40. The soft fruit campaign was good, as the first harvest exceeded €1.5 million. The 2019 strawberry campaign is looking good as the Melissa, Sabrina and Charlene varieties are already available," explains Pietro Ciardiello, director of the Sole cooperative.
"We grow strawberries all year round and have acquired new partners in Sicily. We are also testing new varieties that could meet our requirements to supply fruit that is appealing, tasty and healthy."
Melissa is a cultivar that adapts well to organic productions due to its vigor and rusticity. Sabrina and Charlene are sweeter but perform better with integrated cultivation techniques. "Regardless of the variety, all our strawberries are grown in Italy."
The cultivation of soft fruit started in 2015. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and wild strawberries are sold in 250 g punnets under the "Chicche di natura" brand, which is doing well in central and southern Italy in particular but also in Europe.
The labor issue
Many countries are experiencing problems in finding specialized labor, so much so that a new robot to harvest soft fruit was presented at Fruit Logistica.
Pietro Ciardiello refers that "it is true that the lack of labor is making itself heard throughout the sector and it is a real problem as many growers choose not to sow as they have no one to harvest. I consider myself lucky, as our cooperative works with Romanians who are perfectly integrated with our society and with locals for produce processing and sorting."
"I prefer harvesting by hand than with robots, also because our crops are still easily manageable this way."
Sustainability and future challenges
Cooperativa Sole was among the first in the 1970s to prefer integrated production techniques and now also features 50 hectares of organic crops.
"I still tend to prefer traditional fields to soil-less crops, provided that good agronomic practices are employed to safeguard the soil."
"The crop rotations envisaged by the integrated and organic production specifications expanded the range of products available to Italian and European consumers as now there is lettuce, kohlrabi, soft fruit and vegetables."
"For the future, we aim at expanding our organic crops and we also want to employ specific production techniques and a more efficient logistic system for soft fruit. In addition, we want to promote vegetables and improve our strawberry production."
"What is more, we want to increase melon quantities by testing new varieties and plan on going from three thousand to six thousand tons over the next three years."
"In such a globalized context, the most popular products on the global market are dried and soft fruit. It is up to entrepreneurs to welcome new challenges and introduce increasingly competitive products on the market. Our soft fruit project cannot but be something positive."
"I believe there is a future for those who invest in the fresh produce market and for the younger generations involved with agriculture, because it is original ideas and commitment that drive agriculture. One needs to be good at welcoming market demands without being afraid. There is still a lot to be done in Italy, but our cooperative and its many partners are proof of what can be obtained with enthusiasm and professionalism."
Autore: L.L.R. per FreshPlaza