“Exportation is a favorable surprise”
The production of melon of Rio Grande do Norte started to grow this year and may regain market leadership in exportation, since it has lost to Ceará. The scenario for the sector was one of the topics covered by the businessman Luiz Roberto Barcelos during this interview to the TRIBUNA DO NORDESTE. Chairman of the Committee that brings together exporters and business partner of one of the giants of the sector, he also points to Asia as “the new export goal” of potiguar melon and he makes projections for the harvest. He also makes a balance of the Expofruit, international fair held in Mossoró. The event, according to Barcelos, “was a success” and it helped to shorten distances between producers and supermarkets.
How the production and exportation of melon in Rio Grande do Norte been this last year? Are there difficulties or is the moment favorable?
Exportations this year are great. It has been a favorable surprise. In the first four weeks of exportation harvest, until last week, we had a 20% increase in volume compared to the same period last year. This has happened for two reasons: we are having a higher productivity, due to a better phytosanitary balance and there are fewer pests. On the other hand, the record heat in Europe generates an increase in demand for fruit. We are getting a great performance regarding this.
What is the expectation for this year’s crop? Will there be a growth, failure or stability?
Obviously, we will not maintain an expectation of 20% levels of growth. From October, productivity should return to normal, with areas already harvested, others “old” and a small increase of pests; thus, we return to the level of 25 tons per hectare cultivated. From October, the heat also decreases in Europe and this influences fruit consumption. Even with the increase of the temperature in Brazil, we believe that, in general, the demand is not available at the same level today. Anyway, a prediction is an increase of 10%, there is no export volume compared to last year and the period, since it is necessary to slightly decrease, around 15%, due to the variation of the dollar in that period.
The reduction of water supply in Ceará let Itaueira, which is one of the greatest of the sector, to migrate to RN. Was it an isolated case or has this type of movement been a trend? What impact does it have on the economy of the states involved and on the industry as well?
Itaueira, which have produced a lot in Ceará, Piauí and Bahia, is not able to use water from Vale do Jaguaribe, region of Aracati (CE). Therefore, it has been moved to Vale do Açu. And it is not an isolated case: Agrícola Famosa itself, as it has a consolidated presence here in RN, has also stopped the production in Jaguaribe and it is increasing its production in Apodi region. Ceará does not have the same water potential as RN aquifers can provide. The impact of these changes is the increase of local production: while the overall average growth is expected to be of 10%, in RN, due to the transfer of production from Ceará to here, this number should increase to 20%. It means more jobs in the region and more money which are expected to heat up the state’s economy.
Are there plans to expand production in RN?
As Agrícola Famosa decreases the cultivated area in Ceará, the planting in RN increases: we are already working in Apodi, Afonso Bezerra and we have already acquired areas in Vale do Açu in order to begin the production next year. We arrived strongly in Apodi, generating 650 direct jobs. Due to the relocation the number of production units remains stable: 16.
RN had lost the position of the largest exporter of melon to Ceará. Should this change with the migration of production units?
The 2015 numbers indicated exportation in Ceará of 118 million dollars and RN of 95 million dollars. I believe RN is very close to regaining the leadership in the volume of melon export in Brazil – if it does not happen this year, it will certainly happen in 2017. Anyway, the 2016 numbers will be very close.
Expofruit was held in Mossoró this week, and had as goal to move R$ 40 million in business. Has this result been achieved?
The goal (of R$40 million) was reached easily, many people attending the fair and everyone praising it a lot. New companies attending, all the booths were sold in advance and the area of the fair was increased in 20%. The sector has grown in recent years, and as we did not have problems with defaults, suppliers were encouraged to come and participate. The fair was a great success indeed.
Sebrae announced that there would be a strong presence of supermarkets, both in the business round as in other aspects of the Expofruit schedule. Is this market completely accessible to RN producers or are there difficulties?
Sebrae-RN, our partner at Expofruit, brought representatives from supermarkets to strengthen this contact with the producers. The big chains already buy direct, the smaller chains and the medium size ones still are supplied from wholesales or from Ceasa. Eliminating the middleman, the profitability increases and everybody wins: the one who sells and who buys.
What new markets does potiguar melon seek and what are the challenges to conquer them?
The new export goal of the melon market in RN is Asia. We have already opened the market in Japan, we have made some shipments by air to them, we are getting the last details with the government of Vietnam to prepare the first shipments, and we are waiting for the opening of the Chinese market. This is a great expectation of potential: China’s population is huge and people are used to consume melon and watermelon – they have a good production during the summer, so the idea is to supply the country during the winter. We depend on Federal government support to negotiate this partnership with China and on pest risk analysis: the country that will receive the products send technicians to examine our production. As we are used to sending our products to very demanding markets, we will have no difficulties in complying with any demand.
There was expectation of selling to USA. How is it going?
We still cannot reach the USA, as we have tariff barrier of 28% on melon. We need more political support to achieve a reduction that makes our product more competitive. Since Brazil is negotiating the importation of wheat with tax reduction, we have included a counterpart request to analyze the export of the fruit at a lower rate.
The Inframérica consortium, which manages the airport of São Gonçalo do Amarante, reported that the airport of RN took the lead, in the Northeast, of exportations by air and fruit is the main exported product. Is it an unlocked way of exporting or are there any difficulties?
This type of air shipment is little used, but we have new business opportunities, especially with the papaya, which can be harvested a little more ripened, tastier and by air the product arrives well. It is a more expensive, differentiated product, but there are niches of consumers. The melon with high sugar content, more ripened, is also getting its space. The shipment by air, in this case, helps a lot. These aspects are greatly aided by the aerial shipment option, which is why the airport of Natal/São Gonçalo are the leaders regarding export volumes. I am not talking about large quantities, they are niches and the trend is to increase the participation of this kind of shipment.
What is the trend for air exports?
The trend is to increase, I have no doubt that new products can be planted in order to use this modal. Several other fruits, which have a shorter post-harvest, have the potential to grow with this new transport possibility.
What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to shipping by watercraft?
The advantage is the travel time, it makes the fruit arrive fresher, tastier, without having to harvest far in advance. The disadvantage is the price; it is from 10 to 12 times more expensive per kilo than shipping by watercraft.
The flagship of Agrícola Famosa is fresh fruit, notably melon, followed by watermelon, papaya and banana: are there plans to install fruit pulp industry? And is the goal of occupying an area of 17.4 thousands hectares with these four products by 2022 going well?
Our focus is on the production of melon (the flagship of Agrícola Famosa), followed by watermelon. Today we have a good production of banana and Formosa papaya. We are also investing in asparagus, pineapple and passion fruit, products that can be sold on a large scale to justify the investments. The plan of growth is kept, we are reaching 9 thousands hectares and in the following years we must reach 20 thousand hectares. For now there is no prediction for a pulp industry, at least not in the short or medium term.
The diversification of Agrícola Famosa’s business includes the raising of cattle, tilapia and great-shrimp of Malaysia. How are investments in these areas?
We have increased the investments, but it is only to attend to the local market. The company has more than 4,000 heads of cattle that are fed with the remains of the melon crop, and this helps with the cleaning part of the farm: for example, instead of selling fruit outside the standards of exportation, we sell milk and meat. Our intention is to double the herd over the following five years. We also have 82 tilapia tanks, which produce 10 tons per week; the shrimp farm is undergoing some tests.
Luiz Roberto Barcolos, 51, is the institutional director and founding partner of Agrícola Famosa. Lawyer, graduated in Law from USP, he was born in Colina (SP) and has been in the Northeast region for 22 years. He started working with fruit production in 1995, when he founded Famosa – currently the company has four partners. Barcelos is president of the Executive Comitee of Controling the Fruit Fly (COEX) in Mossoró; president of Abrafruta (associação Brasileira dos Produtores e Exportadores de Frutas, with the headquarters in Brasília); moreover, he is president of the Sectorial Chamber of Fruticulture of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The largest melon producer in the world, the largest exporter of fresh fruit in Brazil and the largest agribusiness employer in the country, Agrícola Famosa consolidated its production in Rio Grande do Norte and currently generates over 9 thousand direct jobs. The numbers are superlatives: the company produces 250 thousand tons annually, 60% of this production destined to the international market. By the end of October the number of direct jobs should increase. RN is responsible for 65% of all Famosa’s production, which also grows fruit in Ceará and Pernambuco.
The projection of Barcelos is that the company records a growth of 10% in 2016 in relation to last year. “Our goal is to increase the cultivation of papaya and banana, to grow the harvest of pineapple and asparagus to 30% and 10% of melon”, he said. Famosa’s focus is on the production of melon, followed by watermelon, banana and Formosa papaya. “We are also investing in asparagus, pineapple and passion fruit, products that can be sold on a large scale in order to justify the investments. The growth plan is still, we are reaching 9 thousand cultivated hectares and in the following years we should reach 20 thousand hectares. For the time being, there is no prediction for a pulp industry, at least in the short or medium term” said Luiz.
Source: Tribuna do Nordeste