High density loquat orchards increase profits and shorten the time for investment returns.
The European Union, under pressure from the World Trade Organisation to achieve substantial changes, has resolved to modify the Common Agricultural Policy, and progressively liberalize EU market access to non-member states. In this scenario, only the most competitive agents can attain success. Mediterranean fruit crops face these challenges. In this regard, Spain is the second world leading producer of loquat, and accounts for 80% of exports worldwide. Nevertheless, labour cost represents 75% of the total costs for this crop and, in this context, loquat ranks first among horticultural and fruit crops in Spain. To date, this labour cost has been found difficult to reduce (mainly due to the heavy requirements for pruning, fruit thinning and harvesting) - hence increasing orchard density appears to be a promising way to increase loquat profitability. In this study, the profitability of a traditional Spanish orchard, 540 trees per ha, has been compared to that of an ultrahigh density planting (2353 trees per ha). Initial results show that mean yield is greater in an ultrahigh density orchard (31 versus 25 tonnes per hectare), even during the first years of cropping, and that, although both kinds of orchard are profitable (Net Present Value above 240,000 Euro considering usual parameters), the time required to reach this threshold is 65% less in an ultrahigh density orchard. Sustainability of ultrahigh density orchards is yet to be ascertained, especially regarding orchard longevity. Our results can help to reduce this uncertainty.