- François-Xavier Branthôme
- 2017 Season
Quality is satisfactory, but season likely to be shortened
On 23 August, slightly ahead of real factory results, Italy's regional press announced that processors had reached 50% of their target in the North of the country...
To date, while harvest quantities only represent approximately 45% of contract volumes, reception and processing rates reached their peak in the factories of the country's northern regions as well as in the South, in order to deal with the permanent maximum product flow of deliveries. The high temperatures of recent weeks and months have indeed led to a major issue of grouped ripening, which has resulted in a simultaneous influx of raw materials to the factories, obliging them to work at full speed in order to avoid a product glut. According to processors, quality has been satisfactory, despite accelerated ripening due to weather conditions and a low Brix level (less than 4.8, possibly closer to 4.7, which is below usual levels) that has slightly penalized deliveries at the grading stations. This lower Brix has also led to a slight drop in industrial yield.
However, halfway through the season, most processors of northern Italy remain optimistic, like Dario Squeri (Steriltom), for whom "Piacenza will achieve a good season because, unlike provinces like Mantua or Ferrara (only about 100 km apart), where crops have been particularly grouped in terms of their ripening period, the harvest of late-season varieties will allow factories to operate more smoothly in a few weeks, without having to discard part of the production remaining in the fields."
In the final days of August, prospects seem virtually certain, even if official data still needs to be published by the Pomodoro IO: in the "Distretto", volumes are expected to decrease, from 2.84 million mT last year to 2.4 or 2.5 million mT this year, which is approximately 300 000 tonnes less on a market that is "very calm for the moment, and continues to suffer from competition from Spain, except for a few segments of industrial packed formats," added Stefano Spelta (A.R.P.). As for the harvest, the same processor agrees on the highly concentrated ripening of the crop, on the good agricultural yields (75 to 85 mT/hectare) and on the extremely intense activity of the processing plants, which he expects to see decrease suddenly in the early days of September.
The harvest should end sooner than usual
In concluding his comments, Dario Squeri pointed out that "the season will end about ten days ahead" of the usual schedule. This opinion is shared by Antonio Casana, the CEO of Solana (Maccastorna), who also expects "the harvest to end faster than usual," particularly in the South of Italy, but probably also in the North. The processor has mentioned the fruit quality, which is "acceptable without being excellent, with rather low Brix levels and processing yields that are lower than average." In his view, late season varieties are likely to be less productive, "due to blossom drop issues and the low rate of plant set caused by the high temperatures recorded in July and August. […] 2017 will likely be remembered as a difficult year for tomatoes."
According to indications supplied by Mr. Casana, the North of Italy had harvested 35% of its surfaces as of 15 August, for a crop of approximately 1 million tonnes. At the same date, the South had harvested 50% of its surfaces, and processed approximately 1.2 million tonnes of tomatoes. In total, these 2.2 million tonnes reportedly account for 41% of the country's planted area.
Irrigation costs have doubled this year
This year, a number of growers have reduced their planted surfaces, as low prices have reduced their motivation. For those who have been fortunate enough to be able to irrigate, yields have been "satisfactory, nothing more." But the cost of water supplies has increased sharply, sometimes doubling, as growers have tried to compensate for the virtual absence of rainfall. Conversely, this lack of rain has meant that not so many plant health input treatments have been required, therefore leading to some savings...
(See also “Half-way point for the north Italy crop” and “Italy: water is a vital issue”).