Pears and berries in the Portuguese fruit panoply
The name is Pedro António Rocha and Rocha pears his realization. Who is this man? He was a farmer in 1836 and incidentally discovered a pear tree in his orchard. Proud of his sweet discovery, he named it Rocha pear, announced it and and became a producer.
Rocha pears were officially recognized a hundred years later, in the 1990’s during a pear congress. Mr. Domingos dos Santos is the president of the Portuguese Pera Rocha Association and is in charge since 2017. He also runs the presidency of the Portuguese Federation of Fruit and Vegetables Growers as well as the vice presidency of the Portuguese Farmer Confederation.
These positions represent his second, third and fourth fields of activity. He has been a farmer for thirty five years and produces lemons and Rocha pears ever since.
He chose to return to his father’s orchards after a few years working in other spheres. His father was a lemon grower at that time, so why pears? There was an open market for pears and Frutoeste, the Portuguese Western Producers Cooperative accepted working with Rocha exclusively.
In 1995, he became a Rocha pear producer and a few years later as a Frutoeste associate, he felt confident and grew his first 3 ha. Rapid results due to favourable soil and climate conditions, meant amazing fruit quality and 10 ha of total fruit crop.
How did the pear market develop in Portugal since the nineties and how is it at the moment?
In the early nineties, the United Kingdom started importing Rocha. The UK rapidly became its best target. Later, countries like Brazil, Canada, Morocco, Germany and France importers also fell in love with its sweetness.
Export sales have been growing ever since and Spain, Ireland, Canada and Poland have also surrendered to this sweet variety.
Now berries and North-western Portugal seem to be partners, since blueberry specialised producers are rapidly multiplying. Their target is northern Europe with the packed version and derived products such as jams, teas and dehydrated focusing on the Portuguese market.
Strawberries will always be strawberries and the west coast is still their main production zone in Portugal, targeting the Portuguese and UK markets.
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries whose large demand from countries like The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland forced producers to become even more competitive. Competitiveness means to have specialised services and having berries as the core business.
The positive feedback from northern European countries is compelling the Portuguese berry market to keep looking for new producers. Producers keep up their work in the Eastern part of the country since the mid 90’s and supply both local and international markets.
Currently, the Algarve and its Mediterranean /African microclimate also provide unique conditions for berry producers to grant raspberries and blackberries the whole year round.
Both Rocha pear and berries are well known traditional crops all over the world, but nowadays, being able to retain such products in unstable climate conditions, means to grant exclusive high quality.