"No illusions for Georgian strawberries to find a niche in the European market"

LLC Adina was founded in 2012. The enterprise, located in the Imerety region of Western Georgia, currently comprises 4 ha of raspberries (JoanJ variety), and a greenhouse of 2 ha, 1.5 of which is used for growing garden strawberries (Albion, Monterey, Murano, Camarosa varieties). Another 0.5 ha is used for growing seedlings (about half a million pieces). Low volume hydroponics technology is used in the greenhouse: the plants are grown in coco substrate.

As the representative of the company, Ms. Natalia Tskitishvilly said that strawberry harvesting has begun in the greenhouse in the second part of April, but the volume is not too big. It is not profitable to transport the strawberries to distant locations; therefore they are sold to local wholesalers at rather low prices. Among the customers, there are restaurants, confectioneries as well as dry fruit producers. The company is planning to begin exporting the berries too.

According to Ms. Natalia Tskitishvilly, LLS Adina are planning the crops in advance, depending on a number of factors.

“Currently we are orienting at the internal market and in order to fetch good prices, it is best to harvest over a longer period. The long period begins here in April and lasts until the first frosts; we normally finish before the Christmas holidays. Our greenhouse is equipped with lighting and heating systems, but their extensive usage in December and January influences the cost of produce significantly. As a result, the berries lose the competitive advantage over the Turkish ones. Thus, we artificially stopped fruit-bearing in the coldest season and renewed it, when not as much heating was required. The varieties we have picked for growing require neutral daylight and do not stop vegetation and fruit-bearing even in winter”, shares Ms. Natalia Tskitishvilly.

From May the enterprise are planning to establish a price of $2.20 -$2.60 per kilo of strawberries. The purchase price of Turkish strawberries amounts to $1.90. According to Ms. Tskitishvilly, the clients of LLC Aldina are ready to pay more for the company's produce since they are confident in the high quality, safety, good taste and adequate shelf life.

“We do grow strawberries in coconut substrate and not in soil, but the macro and micro elements used in the growing process predetermine the berries’ perfect taste and aroma. Moreover, we cool them immediately after they have been harvested, which allows us to increase the shelf life up to 7 days. It is especially important in the pastry business, for instance, when the produce is decorated with berries.

"What's more, our produce does not rot in the fridge, it dries out gradually. As an experiment, our berries were placed in a regular fridge and within one month, they became small as raisins, but without rotting.

"As for the fertilizers, our company adheres to the norms of the European catalogue of allowed mineral fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. Irrespective of what market we are producing for, we aim at maintaining a proper level of quality and food safety”, noted Ms. Natalia Tskitishvilly.

Regarding export, Ms. Tskitishvilly mentioned that being different from other local producers, she does not have any illusions that fresh strawberries or raspberries can find a niche in the Western European market.

“In my view, Georgia cannot become a significant exporter of fresh strawberries or raspberries to the European Union. It is possible to export processed produce but at lower prices. However, concerning blueberries Georgia is in a favorable position: harvesting here begins when the berries have not ripened in almost all other areas. Moreover, blueberries can be stored over a relatively long time and can handle transporting well. The only free niche for us regarding strawberries and raspberries is organic growing”, added Ms. Tskitishvilly.

According to the grower, after all the aspects have been analyzed, LLC Adina have picked Russia as an export market for their produce. “The Russian market is the most preferred one because of a range of factors. First of all, transportation is faster compared to Europe. Moreover, Russian growers begin strawberry harvesting about a month later than the Georgian ones, allowing us to sell produce at higher prices over this period. Next year we are planning to carry out the delivery to Russia in April-May before harvesting begins in Krasnodarsky kray, the main strawberry supplier in the Russian market”, shares Natalia.

Among the issues that the company has faced, the representative of LLC Adina noted a lack of qualified personnel in the agricultural sector of Georgia.

“Our associates are educated by highly qualified Western consultants, it’s not cheap to bring them over but we have no other option. It is extremely difficult to find local qualified personnel. Moreover, within the past two years we have been trying to attract students, who would do an internship with us and get employment after their education is completed. So far, we have not succeeded in it. We are witnessing a big migration wave due to the liberalization of the visa regime. We are losing capable young men, the result of which we will witness in the nearest future. But we remain optimistic and believe in the success of Georgian agriculture”, noted Ms. Tskitishvilly.

Source: east-fruit.com

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