General Secretary of World Processing Tomato Council (WPTC) in an exclusive interview at Agrotypos

For the news of international processing tomato sector spoke in an exclusive interview at Agrotypos, Sophie Colvine, the General Secretary of the World Processing Tomato Council (WPTC). For Greece the General Secretary recognizes that potential production remains strong, despite the significant reduction in cultivated area in previous years, if investments are made by both growers and processors. She also stresses the importance of cooperation between producers and processors to organize the production and improve technology and how this can be achieved through inter-professional organizations. Finally the General Secretary informed us that the next meeting of WPTC be held in Greece in June 2018, where they will celebrate the 20th anniversary. Regarding the future of processing tomato, “the current development that will bring advances to the production of tomatoes for processing are the optimization of all operations through modelisation, use of “big data” for collection of information by sensors and drones”, said the General Secretary of WPTC.

How has the processing tomato market been developed during the last years? Which are the main statistics of the processing tomato sector (production, imports, exports etc)?

The production and consumption of tomato products in the world has been increasing on average by 3% annually over the last two decades, from about 25 million tonnes in 1995, to 32 million tonnes in 2005 and 41 million tonnes in 2015. At the same time the global trade in tomato products has also increased, doubling in value between 2005 and 2013 and reaching 6.9 billion US dollars in 2014. While Italy remains the largest exporter of tomato products in the world with more than 1.2 million tonnes of canned tomatoes exported in 2015 (the second largest Spain only exporting 145 000 tonnes) and 656 000 tonnes of tomato paste, China is the largest exported of tomato paste with 990 000 tonnes, before the USA with 459 000 tonnes.

Which are the main trends regarding the cultivated area and production in the world? Spain has doubled its production during the last 3 seasons, while China’s production seems to reach a plateau after an explosive entrance in the world market for processing tomatoes. What do you expect mid term?

Although tomatoes are processed in a large number of countries around the world, the ten largest countries represent 87% of the total volume of 41.3 million tonnes processed in 2015. With 13 million tonnes processed in 2015, California is by far the biggest producer, with China (5.6 million tonnes) and Italy (5.4 million tonnes) jostling for the second position. These are followed by Spain which has indeed seen it production increase rapidly over the last few years to 3 million tonnes, as have Turkey (2.7 million tonnes) and Portugal (1.6 million tonnes). It is difficult to predict how the industry will evolve in the next few years as many factors are at play, and many of these such as exchange rates, custom duties or freight costs are out of the control of the industry. A few years ago, who would have predicted that the Chinese industry would scale down its production and close many new factories after growing so rapidly and being seen as a major threat by other processing countries?

Are there any innovative techniques that are used in processing tomato cultivation?

After the advances brought in by fertigation and irrigation management and modern hybrids in the last couple of decades, the current development that will bring advances to the production of tomatoes for processing are the optimization of all operations through modelisation, use of “big data” for collection of information by sensors and drones, …which enable to better target irrigation, fertilization and treatments to the fields and to schedule harvest.

California processing tomato growers currently produce many more tons per hectare than they have in the past. How they managed to increase the yield? Is the “California model” the example to follow?

Fields yields in California have gone from an average of 85 t/ha in the early 2000 to 110 t/ha now, and seem to continue to increase. The region benefits from excellent conditions for producing tomatoes with the availability of suitable land and near perfect weather conditions. Although these factors may not be transferred to another country, many of their production methods like the generalized use of targeted fertigation, use of new hybrid varieties adapted to the conditions, the professionalization of the growers, a strong network of researchers and farm advisers can be copied and help other regions to also further increase their yields.

 How important is the interaction between professional grower organizations and the processing industry in order to keep the sector viable for all parts involved?

Tomato processors and growers need each other and the industry can only be viable long term if a win-win balance is achieved so that both parties can run a profitable business. Cooperation between them is needed to organize the production and improve technology and this can be through inter-professional organizations such as the ones which have existed in France for many years or have recently been set-up in Italy or through good relationship between one factory and its growers.

Do you believe that there is potential to increase the world consumption of processed tomato?

Worldwide, the consumption of tomato products has grown at an estimated rate of 3.3% per year over the last eighteen years to reach about 39 million metric tonnes equivalent fresh tomatoes in 2014. Consumption in 2016 is estimated at about 40 million tonnes and the current production forecasts of 39.4 million tonnes means that the market should be balanced. While demography (larger population) plays some role in the increased consumption, it is encouraging to see that the main driver for growth is increased per capita consumption in most regions around the world. The average consumption per capita is now 5.4 kg/year when it was only 4 kg/year in 1996/97. While the consumption is more or less stable in high consuming developed countries like Western Europe and North America, where the consumption per capita is on average 22 kg/year, consumption is increasing at a rapid pace in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle-East which now represent more than 50% of the total volumes consumed, against only 30% 15 years ago.

 How important is Greece for the global tomato production and what do you suggest the Greek tomato growers to do?

While the production in many countries has increased, Greece has seen is production decline, and it now processes about half a million tonnes of tomatoes when at its peak in the late 1990s it processed 1.2 million tonnes. It remains however one of the top 10 exporter of tomato paste with more than 50 000 tonnes exported annually. The reduction in the production is due to the closure of small companies and the concentration of the industry, although the agricultural potential remains here if investment are made by both growers and processors.

 Tell us a few things about the story and importance of the World Processing Tomato Council.

The World Processing Tomato Council (WPTC) was set-up at the initiative of the Mediterranean International Association of the Processing Tomato (AMITOM) in 1998 after several years of discussion, to provide a forum for everyone in the industry worldwide to meet, exchange ideas, promote the consumption of tomato products worldwide and lobby together the Codex Alimentarius for new standards for tomato products. Since then its members meet at least twice a year and every two years, organize the World Processing Tomato Congresses to give everyone associated with the industry, from seed breeder, growers, processors, marketers, equipment manufacturers, researchers, … the unique opportunity to meet and discuss all issues affecting the sector. It is unique as it combines a scientific symposium, where researchers working in universities and research centers around the world come and present their work, with the congress itself and a post-congress tour to get a closer insight in the local agricultural and industrial conditions. More than 400 participants took part in the congress held in Santiago (Chile) in March 2016 which was a great turnout for the first event of this type to be held in the growing market of South America. The next congress will take place in Greece in June 2018 and promises to attract even more participants keen to use this opportunity to discover an amazing country and its numerous islands. It will also be the perfect place to celebrate the 20th anniversary of WPTC.

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