Cherries are packed with vitamins, but they’re also particularly prone to spoiling and it’s not rare that they grow mold. Before the plants have even fully flowered – long before the harvest – nature has already decided how good the fruit will be and how long it will last. For this reason, it is extremely important to protect the fruit early on.
There are some people who travel around the world to see cherry trees in bloom. The branches of a single tree can be covered in up to one million pure white or pale pink flowers. It is a sight that Patricia Bustamante absolutely adores. But she doesn’t need to pack her suitcases to enjoy it – she witnesses it every year on her very own doorstep while she works. “It’s a wonderful time,” she says. It is also one of the reasons why she does what she does on a daily basis.
Bustamante is a cherry farmer in Chile, her farm located in the rural area of Agua Buena. Here, at the base of a mountain range and 137 kilometers south of Santiago, row upon row of cherry trees stretch into the distance. The land on which the trees grow spans an impressive 100 hectares – the equivalent of about 140 soccer fields.
It was Bustamante’s dream to set up the farm. “It’s actually my husband who comes from a family of farmers, but I'm the driving force,” jokes the mother of seven. Her husband and children have always supported her with all her plans.
It didn’t take Bustamante long to know she wanted to cultivate cherries. She has always loved the fruit. “I tried cherries for the first time 30 years ago during a trip down south. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.” You could say it was love at first bite.
Cherry trees have since become part of both her life and family. Bustamante puts a lot of effort into cultivating top-quality cherries, starting her work at 5:30 am. “My team and I start every day by looking at the quality of the harvest and checking the fruit in its storage areas.”
Bustamante doesn’t just get up early, carry out checks and tend her trees to make sure she produces the best cherries she can. Right from the start, she also provides them with the best possible protection.
Red Vitamin Bombs
Cherries contain a lot of vitamins, including vitamin C and B vitamins (B1, B2, B6). They also contain minerals such as iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus and the trace element zinc. But cherries are a good source of folic acid, too. Folic acid is a vitamin that is particularly important for pregnant women. It is responsible for the highly important processes of cell division, blood formation and growth processes in the body. Cherries get their red color from flavonoids, which are said to have anti-inflammatory properties and protect both cherries and humans from harmful environmental influences. Flavonoids are also found in red grapes, apples, red cabbage and beets.
The blossom signals the start of an approximately five-month period that is important for the fruits’ formation, quality and the subsequent harvest. Even though you can’t see any signs of it at first, cherries are susceptible to mold growth during this period.
There are countless spores from microorganisms constantly floating in the air – invisible to the human eye. They latch onto the blossoms and wait until the fruit ripens, as this is when sugar starts to form inside the cherries, which provides the spores with the perfect nutrition. The fruit starts to slowly rot from the inside and is no longer fit for sale or consumption.
To stop this from happening, Bayer has developed a broad-spectrum fungicide. The product kills off fungi and their spores and combats diseases such as botrytis, powdery mildew and other problematic diseases.
More cherries survive the journey to markets and stores and less produce is thrown away.
“It makes the fruit healthier, even once it has been picked, and keeps it fresh for longer, which in turn makes it easier to store and sell,” says Dominique Steiger, product/segment manager at Bayer. But that’s not all. “More cherries survive the journey to markets and stores and less produce is thrown away.” That is a particularly important factor when cherries have to travel far to their place of sale. The fruit reaches its destination in a salable condition, meaning the time and money spent on transportation hasn’t been invested in vain.
This season was the first time Bustamante used the Bayer product during the blossoming period. “We’ve waited a long time for something like this. Until now, you couldn’t get the product in Chile. Botrytis is one of the main diseases to affect our cherries.” The verdict? Bustamante says she has seen an improvement in quality after using the treatment – her fruit is fresher and firmer.
As in past seasons, all of Bustamante’s cherries – some 600,000 kilos or 100,000 crates – are being exported to Asia. “China is the main target market,” says Bustamante. But does she really export all her fruit? No – some stays in Agua Buena. “I love to eat it straight from the tree,” says Bustamante. And some ends up in her kitchen, which can only mean one thing – cherry pie.