After last summer’s washout season, the 2024 forecast is looking much more positive

With the first arrivals of Picota, the hand-picked stalkless cherry from Spain’s Jerte Valley, due in European supermarkets within weeks, Fruitnet talks to Monica Tierno of Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte (ACVJ), the region’s biggest producer, about the outlook for the new campaign.

Valle del Jerte cherries

How is the 2024 cherry season shaping up in the Valle del Jerte? Has production fully recovered from last year’s devastating rains? What are your expectations for the crop in terms of volume, sizes and quality?

Monica Tierno: It’s a little too early to give a precise estimate because we still have to wait a couple of weeks until we can gauge how the higher altitude production areas are doing. We are currently expecting a regular campaign, with good expectations with regards to sizes and quality.

The winter and spring weather conditions have been favourable, we have had high rainfall at the right time and we hope that this will mean we won’t see a repeat of last year’s climatic episode, where we saw torrential rain at the least opportune time. This year we are very excited about the start of what is expected to be a good campaign.

What about the market outlook? Do you anticipate favourable conditions?

MT: We continue to see an expansion in cherry acreage throughout Europe – including Turkey. This obviously means greater pressure on the market and stronger competition, especially in weeks where production in most of the main growing area overlaps.

However, it’s also true that in recent years, inclement weather has been regulating the market, since unfortunately each year one or more producing country has been affected. This has reduced overall supply and helped to regulate prices – going some way in compensating for the loss of production.

Our commitment is to offer value to our clients by guaranteeing volume, continuity and quality and excellent service throughout the whole season.

When do you expect exports to get underway?

MT: We hope to start harvesting the first cherries in the last week of April and have volumes available for export from the second week of May, although the weather in the coming weeks will set the definitive pace for the start of the season.

Can you tell us about any investments you have carried out to future-proof the business?

MT: Over recent years, we have invested in expanding our facilities to increase our sorting and packaging capacity. This year, for this new campaign we will have a new 14-way optical calibrator, with automated packaging lines and integrated Artificial Intelligence, which will help us to maximise our productivity and quality.

We also have plans for the beginning of 2025 to carry out an ambitious installation programme for solar panels that will allow us to improve our energy efficiency and optimise the use of resources. It’s part of a wider sustainability strategy that last year saw the construction of a purification and water treatment plant to reduce our water consumption.