Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Our Kleppe Tour

Today we toured with folks from the Kleppe operation in Cipolletti which is a town across the river from Neuquen. Jorge Aragon, their general manager, gave us a wonderful tour of not only the orchard operations, but the communities around Neuquen. Jorge has been to Wenatchee at least 15 times since the mid 1980's. He explained the history of Argentina's agriculture from the Peron days until the present showing us the homes built for the workers by the unions and the government. The inflation this year is 7% but the workers just got a 24% cost of living raise.  He says may farmers may not be able to afford to pick their crops.  They also suffered from a cold spring and alot of wind so the pears are smaller than normal, perhaps as much as 30% less to pick than last year.
   But from what we saw, this operation will survive and thrive.  The Kleppe family roots can be traced back three generations. Unfortunately, Sr. Kleppe was home sick, but we did meet his son Pablo who has recently returned to the area from Buenos Aires to run the family business. Currently they farm 13 different orchards in the upper and mid valley, totaling @ 1,600 hectares.They will pack 2.5M boxes of fruit and 80% of it is exported.  They now are cutting back on Red Delicious and Gala apples and are excited to grow Pink Ladies. Their operation produces 50 % apples and 50% pears. They told us this morning that they were looking for a miracle and consider Smart Fresh and Harvesta the answer to their problems. We tasted an apple at the packing house today that was last year's crop and was not only beautiful, but crispy and delicious! We toured their new $2M packing line which has state of the art equipment from New Zealand. In the orchard, Bartlett pear harvest has begun. The pickers are on their first pick and are paid by the hour. We couldn't help but notice how slow they worked in comparison to our pickers at home. Don't know if it was the 100 degree temperature, 12 foot cumbersome ladders or the difficulty finding pears that met size standard that was slowing them down. Maybe it is just a slower pace of life that I too am experiencing in this part of the world. Gail

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