One of the things that differentiates Aragon from other communities in Spain is the cultivation of fruit. Each year, the Aragonese Community has a turnover of around 327 million euros with the production of almost 600,000 tons of these products. And if there is a fruit that puts us on the map, it is the cherry. Here 41% of the total generated in the country is produced, some 41,540 tons.
“The soil, air and sun conditions favor these crops,” says Alberto Navarro, manager of Consanse, one of the nearly 160 agri-food cooperatives in Aragon. Although in his opinion, there is also a large component of tradition. He also states that most of the people working in the fields are “small and medium-sized farmers who work the land through family inheritance”.
In total, there are hundreds of cherry varieties in Spain, and some of those produced in Aragón are Primulat, Burlat, Prime Giant, Corazón, Star Hardy, Sommerset, Lapins and Sweet Heart. The main difference between them is the harvesting time. Harvesting of the former has already started in May, while the latter will start to be marketed at the end of June. Thus, they are all good to eat on their own or as part of a recipe. For example, in sauces, desserts or jams.
The only Community in Spain able to compare with Aragon as far as cherry production is concerned is Extremadura, where the well-known Jerte cherry comes from. “We still have a long way to go. Aragón is the main fruit producer in Spain and we have not known how to exploit that,” says Navarro, for whom the differences in quality are not significant. In this sense, they work together with the initiative Aragón Alimentos Nobles, a campaign of the Government of Aragon that aims to promote Aragonese gastronomy. “We have a long way to go to be known. We are one of the main producers, in quality and volume,” he insists.
With the same objective, that of highlighting Aragonese agriculture and the work on the land, Consanse uses a machine-free packaging method. “Each member collects the fruit from his farm and puts it directly in the field in the packaging that will go to market. The classification of the cherries is done in the traditional way, which guarantees that they will be ready within 24 hours and arrive fresher and with better preservation of their properties,” says the manager. In addition, each package includes a QR code that tells the specific story of the farmer who grew the fruit.
Cherries from Aragon to Europe
The “exceptionality” of Aragonese fruit, in the words of Alberto Navarro, in terms of quality and quantity, is not limited in space and time. At the moment, Consanse exports 50% of the stone fruit it produces to European countries. Mainly Italy, Germany, Poland and the Nordic countries. “They know what is here. European fruit buyers are fully aware that very good fruit is produced here,” he adds. Specifically, exports of agro-industrial products account for 10% of all foreign trade.
In Aragon, the agricultural sector is a consolidated sector, although very fragmented. At the moment, fruit feeds some 5,000 producers. “The structure has changed. Before there were more farmers with less land, now there are fewer with more land,” says Navarro. For him, cooperatives are an effective system because “together we are stronger. Otherwise small entrepreneurs would need to sell their product to a large distributor. In the case of Consanse, there are 130 members who produce some 20 million kilos of fruit a year.
And although cherries are the main spring fruit, Aragon is also the leading producer of sweet stone fruit in Spain with other species, such as peaches and nectarines, which, with 403,600 tons per year, represent 34% of total production.