Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Day 6

Day 6  January 9   
     Unifruiti is one of the larger fruit companies in the world.  Owned by the De Nadi family from Italy, it has major fruit growing and packing houses in Chile, Wenatchee (Dovex) and Italy.  They sell fruit throughout the world.  At 8:30 am Victor Ramos, a 21 year employee of Unifrutti, picked us up at the hotel and we began a great day of orchard visits, a warehouse tour and a fantastic lunch prepared for the three of us by the De Nadi's personal chef at their home in Curico.  Victor has been to Wenatchee twice, and recently spent 5 months in Turkey and two weeks in India, expanding the company operations there.  He took us to three orchards that are as beautiful as any we have every seen.  We drove 60 kilometers south of Curico to Talca and the Pelarco Orchard.  A 100 acre block of Abate Fatel pears and Brookfield Galas was the first stop.  They have sun burn screens stretched across the entire apple block. They also prevent hail damage. An amazing amount of manual labor required to install it and then to take it down after harvest and store it for next year.  They have a sensor that measures humidity so they know the correct moment to spray to prevent scab.  They do not grow any other pears as there is a serious russet problem here and the Abate Fatel variety is a full russeted variety, very popular in Europe.  I want to learn more about it and perhaps plant some in our more humid locations.The entire block was planted in virgin soil in 2002.  This year it will produce 55 tons per Hectare of galas and 40 tons per hectare of pears.  Next year it should reach maximum potential of 60 and 45.  This is very good yield.  Trees planted 5 feet apart and rows 12 feet wide.  All planted on M-9 (which they believe is much better for their soil conditions than M-26)
     Next stop was back towards Curico, another company owned orchard with 80 acres of pears.  Ricardo, the manager, proudly told us he will begin picking in about three weeks.  He expects a full crop and will pay his pickers $4-5 per bin for pears.  The trees are so loaded with fruit, they will accept less than normal as they will pick 8 bins a day.  (Compare that to our pickers who also pick 8 bins a day but are paid $18-20 per bin)  He remembered Byron McDougal and Tony Buak, Wenatchee fruit people, who had visited the orchard recently.
     We drove back 60 K to the Unifrutti main plant (one of four) and took a tour of the amazing new presorting line they had imported in pieces from Italy.  It took fifty workmen and 4 Italian engineers six months to install it.  They have three weeks to go before Gala harvest begins and they are in crash mode to get the line completed in time.  Some great photos of the welding and computer installation that was going on while we were there. It must have cost them several million for the line.  It will pre sort into 70 channels and pack 500 bins a day.  It will allow them to reduce their packing house employees from 350 full time to 125 full time during the packing season.  Quite a remarkable piece of efficiency.  This plant will pack 13 Million boxes of fruit this year.  A major league competitor.
     Now Victor took us into his office for a briefing and then into the private residence of the DeNadi family.  They live in Italy and are only here a couple weeks a year, and in fact they were here two weeks ago.  But their chef prepared a fancy steak lunch for Gail, Victor and I, complete with three courses of food and wine on linen cloths.  Very nice.  But, then back to work.  We drove another 20 K to one of their largest cherry growers.
    The orchard was surrounded by a wall and guarded by German shepard dogs.  We learned that ALL orchard here are walled and locked and most have security cameras due to the prevalence of property crimes.  Few violent crimes but there are theives everywhere and ladders, saws and even tractors disappear regularly.  This cherry orchard  was full of pickers, where they were still picking for the domestic market.  Sweethearts.  Tasted great.  The export (best quality) had already been picked and sold.  The cherry grower was a very intelligent man, asked alot of questions about our orchard practices.  He had planted on Gisella 5 and 6 rootstock, and had a lot of small cherries. Victor told us afterwards he believes the Mazzard rootstock is far superior and that Gisella always produces many cherries, but they are too small to bring a good price.  I agreed and said we only plant Mazzard for that same reason.
     Since it was 95 degrees again, and we were exhausted by walking through all the orchards, we were delighted to be brought back to the hotel.  We spent the evening at the pool, relaxing and looking forward to our trip tomorrow to the Montes Alpha vineyard in Altapaca in the region west of San Fernando.   

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