Río Negro-based producer San Formerio could be about to become the latest casualty of the deep-rooted crisis in the province’s topfruit industry.
According to reports in the local press, the company, which during its heyday owned around 1,500ha of production, is on the verge of closure, putting 320 permanent and around 700 seasonal jobs under threat.
Last year, San Formerio’s biggest customer, Univeg-owned Expofrut, cancelled its 30-year purchasing agreement.
“We didn’t see it coming,” one of San Formerio’s owners, Fernando Muñoz, told El Clarín.
“Expofrut use to buy around 1,000 tonnes a season from us – they accounted for half of our total revenue.”
Muñoz said San Formerio had made a loss for seven consecutive years due to exchange rate pressures, rising costs and strong international competition.
“We cannot compete with Chile and New Zealand – Chile can sell an 18kg carton for US$14. We have to sell it for US$18 just to break even.”
Years of underinvestment have taken their toll on Río Negro and Neuquén’s topfruit industry which has seen its acreage shrink by more than 20,000ha since 2000.
Leading exporters including Expofrut, Moño Azul and Zetone scaled back their operations in the region, causing hundreds of job losses and resulting in hundreds of orchards being abandoned.