C. Lobascio: “In Italy, there is interest in introducing self-fertile cherry varieties”

C. Lobascio: “In Italy, there is interest in introducing self-fertile cherry varieties”

Italy produces around 100,000 mt of cherries per season. While the sector faces some challenges in maintaining its production, it continues to make efforts to improve its position in the global market. Cataldo Lobascio, agricultural engineer and horticultural consultant with extensive experience in southern Italy, provided us with an Italian cherry production overview.

What is the current scenario of cherry production in Italy?

In Italy, we have two production zones. One is in the south, in Puglia, where we have 60-70% of the national cherry production, and it is also the first harvesting zone in Italy. The second zone is in Emilia Romagna and Modena, accounting for 30-40% of the total production. There are other areas, but they have smaller production.

In terms of biodiversity, in the south, we have a great number of varieties. For example, a producer in the field has no fewer than 10 varieties per hectare. However, this is a challenge because not all varieties are good, so they plant the varieties that are better for the market. In the north, it is different, they have around five varieties.

Now, new plantations are being established with self-fertile varieties that allow for a fairly large size because supermarkets want large, sweet, and well-coloured fruit.

What are the main export markets?

The crops from southern Italy, which are very important, are exported to France, Germany, and northern European countries. A smaller portion goes to Arab countries, where the Italian product is highly regarded.

In the northern zone, part of the production is intended for the domestic Italian market, also countries like Austria and markets in Eastern Europe.

But, in general terms, the destination for cherries is the foreign market. Italy does not consume as many cherries compared to Germany or countries in northern and central Europe.

Considering that Chile is the world’s leading exporter of cherries, does Italy view the South American country as a benchmark or with any particular interest?

In Italy, there is a great interest in cultivating cherry crops with varieties that are found in Chile and that are also self-fertile. The problem we have is that many of our varieties are self-sterile, so we have production issues. Chilean producers have varieties that I believe are very interesting for the market, to restyle the production in the south and north of Italy.

Conversely, Chile is also looking for new cherry varieties, and for example, Italy has varieties that require fewer chill hours…

Yes, but this is a challenge. In the last 10 years, the number of chill hours has dropped dramatically. For example, this year we don’t have the possibility of having good blossom because the amount of chill was very low. So, either we find a new variety that has a low chill requirement, or we must use dormancy breakers, but there are no authorized dormancy breakers for Europe yet. We have dormancy breakers that are fertilizers, but they don’t always work well. That’s why we are looking for a new variety that can be interesting for the market and for its agronomic characteristics.

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