Even though Hass avocados may become one of the most important agricultural exports of Antioquia in the coming years, that business model involves large investments to ensure producers obtain the volumes required for export.
In fact, consolidating a 21-ton container requires the harvest of at least thirty small one-hectare producers with similar productivity. In addition, there is a danger of the mixture of origins (several farms) and producers must overcome climatological factors such as rainfall, which affect crops by raising humidity levels.
With these limitations, the national exports of this fruit are now in the hands of large producers. According to Analdex, the main exporter of Hass avocado in Colombia in 2016 was Avofruit, a company that exported US $ 7.6 million (equivalent to 3,600 tons). It was followed by Westsole Fruit Colombia, with sales totaling 6.3 million dollars (i.e. 3 thousand tons).
Another challenge for small producers is that it takes avocado plants at least three years to begin producing.
In addition, this is not an intensive labor culture. Even though there are no official figures, estimates are that this crop only employs one person for every three hectares planted. At harvest time, labor increases to seven jobs.
More than planting
The production of Hass avocados has its technical implications regarding its distribution. The marketing of this crop requires detailed conditions and the cold chain must be maintained from the collection to the port of destination.
There is a high level of standardization in sizes required by the European market. Avocado gauges should be 20, 22, 24, or 26, numbers that indicate the number of fruits that fit in a 10 kg box.
"We are a new origin in the international market, and our inexperience is showing in our dispatches, as we still mix lots. There are some small companies that want to export Hass avocado, but they do not manage the fruit properly, as they have cold chain and adequate selection issues, among other things," stated Arturo Infante, the manager of GreenWest, a fruit marketer in Antioquia. In the last year, GreenWest has shipped 65 containers of 21 tons, worth about 2 million dollars.
One of Colombia's competitive advantages is that its production is not conditioned by the seasons, unlike Mexico and Chile.
However, the rains in Antioquia do not favor the main harvest times, between October and April. "It's been raining a lot, so we are more exposed to pathogens (diseases in crops), which can alter the exportable production," Infante said, adding that the producers from Antioquia should better manage their harvest times, so that their production came out gradually.
Relevant technical assistance
In turn, Henry Acevedo, a technical assistant for GreenWest, spoke about the importance of managing diseases and plagues in producing farms.
This requires a thorough monitoring system for the recognition of pest-free sites, site monitoring, disease eradication programs, and adequate environmental management. "A single monthly technical visit for a crop site costs 100,000 to 300,000 pesos, depending on the number of trees," he said.
Under these conditions, Antioquia and Colombia are on track to learn the best practices of this crop with a high export potential.