Mendoza is the largest producer of walnuts but with problems to export and bring in foreign currency

Due to its role, however, it has a panoramic vision about an activity that excites you and that was growing until the administrative obstacles and macroeconomics they put a cap on it.

The figures are eloquent. In the following table you can see the slowdown that hit exports as of May 2022.

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Lots of noise and tons of nuts

Viera says that, by requiring cool climateswalnut grows particularly well in the Uco Valley.

“It was produced in an artisanal way until the ’90s, when other cultivation methods began to arrive from Chilewhich in turn were inspired by what was happening in California (USA)”, he reviews.

After the Argentine crisis of 2001, the stimulus of a more competitive dollar made them walnut farmers Mendocinos will look at foreign trade. That added to Internal market that – from the hand of a increased food awareness– also grew up and represents 60% of what is sold.

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The agronomist Manuel Viera says that he got involved with the Mendocino dried fruit sector because he saw

The agronomist Manuel Viera says that he got involved with the Mendocino dried fruit sector because he saw “a human group that was going forward.”

The Uco Valley cluster and its attractions

Tupungato Y Tunuyan began a growth process that positioned Mendoza within the list of provinces with higher walnut productiontogether with another nucleus that is located in the north of the country,” says Viera.

“And that – he adds – happened just when some growers of pears and apples were in trouble, which even more attractive to the walnut trees.

Between 2014 and 2017, the Mendoza cluster. More and more interested parties joined a process that was even financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and that reached in a short time the 5,000 cultivated hectares.

Of course: the advantages of nut they were many. The fruit dries quickly in the sun or in ovens -“it can be done in one day”, adds the specialist- and it is storable for monthswhich allows you to find the most suitable prices throughout the season.

Not to mention that, unlike other fruits, the hard shell protects from bruises and various imperfections.

The benefits do not end there. Harvesting can be easily mechanized. As seen in the video at the end of this article, there is machinery that shakes plants and in a few seconds leaves the nuts on the ground, ready to be picked.

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A walnut plantation in the Uco Valley (Mendoza).

A walnut plantation in the Uco Valley (Mendoza).

In turn, the product has a high price per kilo. Sometimes consumers complain about this, although Viera argues: “The price has to do with the fact that, unlike other fruits, here you are transporting something that has low water content. From the food point of view, it is not the same to eat 100 grams of peach than of nuts“.

Viera also mentions that the production per hectare is lower compared to other crops. The peach can yield between 40,000 and 60,000 kilos per hectare, while the walnut is around 2,500 kilod or 3000 kilos of peeled walnut and 5,000 kilos of shelled walnuts. “That’s why the price is higher,” insists the agronomist.

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The walnut: an industry between the ancient past and technology

More than three thousand five hundred years ago, the Hammurabi’s Codean ancient legal text -perhaps the oldest, in fact-, already mentioned the walnuts among the meals featured in the babylonian culture.

Since that time, millions of hands have broken countless shells. They succeeded travel, trade, wars and a lot of work. The Greeks brought the plants from Persia; The Romans associated walnuts with fertility and called them “glands (or fruits) of Jupiter”. Hence the scientific name of the tree, royal juglans. And, in recent years, the rise of so-called “superfoods” catapulted the walnut activity back to the fore.

The walnut is rich in nutrients (fats and proteins). Contains unsaturated fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6), Vitamin E, B vitamins, minerals Y trace elements such as phosphorous, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. It is also rich in fiber.

those who aspire to a healthier life they know. Indeed, during the 2007-2017 period, world production increased by 44%, reaching 881,524 tons, while the world export of shelled walnuts increased by 85% in the 2006-2016 period. More than a fad, it became a sustained trend.

Today it is estimated that Mendoza has about 600 walnut farmers that represent half of national production. The main destination of the exported walnuts from Mendoza is Italy (44.1% of the total).

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Some of the Mendoza producers during a meeting of the sector.

Some of the Mendoza producers during a meeting of the sector.

international dynamics

The supply of US and Chinese origin -which represents approximately 70% of the global volume- enters those european markets in September. With the advance of the months, the fruit deteriorates, which opens the way to Southern Hemisphere productionwhere the main player is Chili.

How much is paid? At some point, the kilo of walnut in shell it was between 3.5 U$S and 4 U$S. Today it’s around 2.5 U$Swhile the cost of production -according to the producers- round the dollar and twenty cents during the 2022 campaign.

In Argentina, the implanted surface reached in 2018 the 14,090 hectares approximately, with a harvest of 18,413 tons. The main producing provinces are: Mendoza (5,242 ha. and 9,980 tons)Catamarca (4,020 ha and 2,617 tons), Río Negro (1,217 ha and 2,165 tons), La Rioja (2,700 ha and 2,131 tons), San Juan (592 ha and 1,228 tons) and Neuquén (265 ha and 290 tons).

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The “grateful plant”

Arthur Soriano works with 10 hectares of walnut trees in Saint Charles and says that when he walks through his farm he feels that he is surrounded by “grateful plants“.

“They are between 18 and 25 years old. And they require their work, yes. But if they are taken care of, they pay back“, he philosophizes.

Though the walnut is sensitive to frost, the cool nights offered by the Uco Valley he likes them That leads to optimal result in terms of quality factors, which are three: the caliber (size), the absence of defects (marks, asymmetries) and the pulp color -the whiter the inside of the nut, the better-.

Actually, the White color does not change the taste. It simply implies that the nut it will take longer to spoil. When the fruit is yellow the signs of rancidity they start earlier.

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Arturo Soriano began planting walnut trees in the mid-1990s.

Arturo Soriano began planting walnut trees in the mid-1990s.

Soriano takes up his story, which is probably that of many. It started in the mid-nineties and that involved taking risks and investing.

“Currently, conscientious work, preparing the soil well, choosing the plants and taking care of them, it demands about US$17,000 per hectare until you start to see results,” he details.

Now Arturo draws from his field between 35,000 and 40,000 kilos of walnuts in shell annual. He says that he could get a little more, because he uses techniques from some time ago and cultivation has been modernized. Anyway, he listens quietly.

“It’s a job that requires patience. After a year of life, a walnut tree will give you 3 or 4 nuts. From the fourth or fifth year you will already have a little more production and between the fifth and seventh years you will enter full productionalready profitable,” he warns.

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The added value, the export and the “Nuezcol”

In various talks with walnut producers from Mendoza, the complaint is repeated: they say that in 2022 little was exported because it does not suit them. Its buyers from abroad deposit foreign currency which, when withdrawn here, are delivered in pesos and quoted in the official dollar. And on top of that, in September the US production begins to take hold and the campaign ends.

“If so, maybe it will close me more take the production to a dietary center to get into the mess of sending things to Europe or the East”, says one.

The following graph illustrates the significant drop in exports since 2019:

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It can be replied that it is primary products and that they could “sophisticate” beyond the walnut in shell, which -as can be seen- represents the majority of shipments abroad. But those who cultivate answer that they do not perceive incentives to add added value and industrialize more. Neither accessible credits for machinery nor back to bet on new proposals.

They still try. In that sense, the first development is to peel the nuts. If “the butterfly” is sold already packaged, there is a first added value. and they exist many other ways. For example: the leftover walnut pieces they are used for pastry, bakery and confectionery. The manufacture of chocolates is an obvious variant.

You can even do a kind of buttermilk that instead of using peanuts, it is made from walnuts, which the producers call “walnut”. In Mendoza there are families that prepare it at home. None has managed to project the candy to the market yet.

Even the shells can be used as firewood or fuel. Arturo Soriano himself says that this year he gave or threw between 4milm or 5 thousand kilos of shell that, if the commercial circuits were sharpened, they could be used as biomass to generate power or heat.

Lastly, there is a walnut oil which is highly valued internationally in gastronomy and cosmetics industry. With its surplus, a flour is made, another product. nothing goes to waste and the resulting could be sold to Excellent prices.

The obstacle lies in the fact that in order to obtain this oil, special presses and that requires an important investment. What drives, once again, to the impasse of the lack of credits for innovation.

To finish, a video institutional of Dried Fruits of Mendoza where it is shown how is the process of mechanized harvest:

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