Luis Schmidt, president of Chilean growers' federation Fedefruta, told 400 grower members at its Annual Meeting on September 7 that the season just ended has been "very difficult…just as it has been for the last four seasons." However, he assured the rest of the world that Chile retains its confidence in the long-term future of its fruit industry.

Total export volumes for the 1999/2000 campaign dropped by three per cent to 1.5 million tonnes, while value remained fairly static, at US$1.4 billion. A rise in shipments to the US was countered by a larger drop in sendings to the EU, Far East and Latin America. There has been virtually no increase in planted acreage in recent years.

Mr Schmidt told the Santiago meeting: "The last year has been complex and difficult for Chile's fresh fruit export industry. Unexpected rainfall in February compromised the quality of some export fruit while the dollar/euro exchange rate made fruit shipped to Europe less profitable."

He said that the industry remains upbeat following an upturn in the exchange rate of the US dollar, which is hugely important to growers who pay most of their bills in pesos and get paid in dollars. The Chilean peso is currently being exchanged at around 560 to the dollar - a rise of 10 per cent in the last six months - and Mr Schmidt voiced hopes that this could reach as high as 700 pesos in the near future.

The fruit industry, he added, will undergo "important changes for the better" before the end of this decade. Most importantly, the Fedefruta Convention was used as the platform to officially launch Chile's Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programme, a campaign designed to promote and implement the best production methods and practices amongst the country's fruit growing fraternity.

Mr Schmidt urged growers to invest in making their operations more efficient, to guard against the increased competition on a global basis of its fellow southern hemisphere exporter nations and said that complying with the rigorous health, safety and environmental standards introduced by GAP was the ideal way to ensure Chilean fruit maintains a competitive advantage.