- François-Xavier Branthôme
- 2019 Season
The crisis is putting the brakes on eight years of expansion for planted surfaces in the region
After eight years of almost uninterrupted growth in the surfaces planted with processing tomatoes in the region of San Juan, the economic crisis – which also affects agriculture – is going to impact the tomato industry, as next season's planted surfaces are merely going to equal the surfaces planted in 2018, and are not expected to exceed about 2 000 hectares. Among the main factors that have led to this situation, the lack of financial support that is essential to the activity's development has been aggravated by the deterioration in the exchange rate of the Argentinian peso against the US dollar, as well as by the increase in interest rates, which limits the access of growers and companies to financial credit.
Up until last season, the industry had been going through strong expansion in the province, with the number of hectares dedicated to growing processing tomatoes doubling over an eight-year period, extending from 1 000 hectares in 2010 to 2 000 hectares last season, while agricultural yields recorded a sharp increase of approximately 150%. Last year, yields reached record levels for Argentina, between 98 and 105 metric tonnes per hectare. On a national level, the province of San Juan plays a major role: with its plans for planting 2 000 hectares, the province reportedly accounts for 32% of the total Argentinian surface dedicated to this crop, which is expected to reach 6 232 hectares over the next season.
For this coming season (for which planting operations have already started), forecasts of planted surfaces announced by local operators during the "V Encuentro Argentino del Tomate" (fifth Argentinian tomato forum, organized last June in San Juan) amounted to 2 500 hectare. "But we will not be reaching that figure," declared Ariel Lucero, the Secretary of State for Agriculture, "as San Juan has not been spared the difficulties affecting the national economy." The government representative notably mentioned the number of inputs whose price has been affected by the increase in the dollar, including irrigation equipment, seeds, fertilizers and agrochemical inputs. Guillermo Quiroga, a tomato grower in the San Juan region and the chairman of the Tomate 2000 association, underlined the sharp increases that have hit fuel and electricity, and stated that he would limit himself this year to the same planted surfaces as last year.
Equipment, inputs and energy represent increasingly costly expenditures, while at the same time, this sector is developing. In 2011, only 11% of surfaces were equipped with drip-irrigation systems, whereas 96% are now equipped in this way. Mechanical transplanting has grown from 20% in 2015 to 49% in 2018, while the proportion of machine harvested fields grew from 8% in 2013 to 75% last year.
Finally, 50 to 60% of the tomatoes grown in the region of San Juan are processed in local plants. Tomato purées are the most frequent finished product.