Spanish grapes chase Chinese market
Updated 21:04, 02-Nov-2018
By CGTN's Alan Goodman
At the largest table grape packing house in the town of Totana, in southeastern Spain, in the arid agricultural region of Murcia that produces more seedless grapes than anywhere else in Spain, the sheer scale of the operation is best observed during the harvest season. 
Into the warehouse building march 430 workers to take up their positions along numerous conveyor belts at Moyca, a Spanish family-owned firm that opened its first packing house 23 years ago, in 1995. 
Moyca table grape packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Moyca table grape packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Today, it grows and packs about a third of all of the 185,000 tons of mostly seedless table grapes from the Murcia region. 
Everyone in the building, including visitors like reporters, must don special suits to protect the grapes. 
Suddenly, the grapes start rolling in, riding in little clear plastic boxes, the kind that will end up in supermarket produce sections. 
The workers on the conveyor belt lines are almost all women, and many are of Latin American origin. 
With their gloved hands, bearing scissors, they quickly analyze each bunch of grapes. They weed out those that are discolored, overripe, too small, and then weigh each box on scales and affix a label to each box. 
Once the weight is correct – 50 grams per box for some grapes, less for others, the little plastic boxes are packed, often 10 to a crate, and sent along. 
Two officials from China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs visited this plant last September, as well as other installations and farms in Murica. 
Harvesting the grapes in the southeastern Spanish region of Totana. /CGTN Photo

Harvesting the grapes in the southeastern Spanish region of Totana. /CGTN Photo

To inspect every part of Spain's grape production and processing, especially for quality and sanitation, from the farm to the packing houses. 
Industry executives in Murcia say it's one of the final steps before the official signing of an export agreement by government officials from Spain and China, expected in the coming months. 
For these table grapes, the harvest runs from June to November. Murcia packers grow some 50 varieties of red and green mostly seedless grapes. 
Many of them are planted in Murica, but also at other locations in Spain, at different altitudes and temperatures, adding to the variety. 
The varieties include so-called designer grapes that have special shapes, like little fingers instead of being round and special flavors. Some are said to taste like mangos. 
All of this, industry executives say, aims to keep consumers, especially the young, interested in trying grapes. 
Moyca's marketing director, Josefina Mena, is among various executives here who've traveled regularly to the Asia Fruit Logistica, an annual fruit and vegetable trade fair in Hong Kong. 
Josefina Mena in a packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Josefina Mena in a packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Moyca already exports its grapes to Hong Kong and she expects the Chinese mainland will demand high-quality grapes. 
"For them, fruit is like a present," Mena said, "It's the best present that any person can receive. So, they like big fruit, good color, sweet fruit." 
Joaquin Gomez manages the Apoexpa fruit producers and exporters association that groups Moyca and 29 other companies. 
Joaquin Gomez in Moyca packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Joaquin Gomez in Moyca packing plant. /CGTN Photo

Until now, most of their exports have been to Britain, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, but the pending deal with China could change that. 
Gomez said China is the next obvious step for the Murcia region, where the grape sector alone racks up about 350 million US dollars in annual revenues and employs more than 12,000. 
The region has doubled its grape production in the past 15 years and the pending deal with China could mean another boost to production. 
"Europe is a market where everything sells. It's well regulated but with lots of competition," Gomez said, "So our sector wants to diversify and not concentrate the risks in one market." 
Back at the Moyca packing plant, the workers cover three shifts, for round-the-clock grape packing every day except Sunday during the harvest season, from June to November. 
Then there's a lull, and some months before the table grape harvest begins again in Murcia. 
The grapes grow under protective coverings, usually plastic, against the sun and occasional hail. 
There, most men do the harvesting, sending the grapes sometimes in less than two hours to the packing plant. The routines are well tested, and they're to be ready, once the export deal with China is signed.