In the village of Hurtado in La Chorrera in Panama is Verba Odrec, a pineapple farm. When someone from Panama City thinks about this area of the country, residences come to mind, not agricultural production, or tourist activities. But the reality is that the activities compete despite houses being a better business, the land is fertile providing several farms suitable for agro tourism less than an hour from the city of Panama.
La Chorrera is famous for its pineapples
Despite the challenges of the high price of land and labor, coupled with the challenge of climate change, pineapple is still one of the most exported fruits from Panama. The pineapple and banana always compete first and second place since they can be produced all year round. Other tropical fruits such as watermelon and melon only have four-month harvest seasons.
The lands of La Chorrera are extremely fertile to have a pineapple farm. Some 1,666 hectares are distributed among the districts of Herrera, Mendoza, La Represa, Hurtado, Amador and El Arado. Currently, 80% of the pineapples produced are exported. 20% remain in the local market that now competes with pineapples imported from Costa Rica, after the Free Trade Agreement.
The variety that is sown is M2 Golden that they just brought from Costa Rica at the suggestion of the owners of Verba Odrec. This seed produces pineapples with an average degree of 14 Brix (index of sweetness) that is prized in international markets. Achieving these sweet pineapples has allowed Panama to become an exporter. They go to exotic destinations such as Holland, Spain, Germany, the United States, Turkey, Dubai and South Korea.
Pioneer pineapple farm
Among the 135 pineapple producers in La Chorrera, the Verba Odrec estate stands out, which I admit it cost me to memorize its name. We arrived in less than 1 hour from Panama City (60 kilometers) using Waze. The road is very good, so you do not need a 4×4 car. We were joined by our friends from Finca TV who also wanted to do a story.
The Barrios Vergara family had the 160 hectare farm from the beginning of the 1970s. Initially they raised pigs and chickens, but at the end of the 1990s they decided to switch to a pineapple farm. Edna Barrios de Vergara organized the producers of the area in the Association of Pineapple Exporters of Panama (AANPEP). Its plant is very modern. More than 50 producers pack their pineapples to be suitable for export.
They have 133 hectares of traditional cultivation but in a modern way with a drip system. I loved that they are designating an area that has more than five years of rest to make an organic crop. This way they will be able to compete in a market that is growing very much.
Most of the production is exported. Likewise, cars pass by this pineapple farm to pick product to sell in the produce market and other sites. Their international buyers asked them to make value-added products such as jellies and dehydrated products that they are making by hand until they get the Ministry of Health certification. Those who visit in the future will be able to learn these techniques.
Pineapple agro tourism
Visits must be booked in advance and must be groups of eight people or more. If it is fewer people then they are added to programmed tours. They always have tours on Wednesdays and are seeing if they add a weekend day for the local market.
You start at the packing plant, where you can see the whole process from washing the pineapple, selection, packaging, stowage and placing it in the cold room. The stowage process involves placing one box over the other in groups of five boxes per line. If air transport it is done in 45 pallets and if it is maritime in 80.
Then you walk around the farm in a wagon that has the logo of “La Doña” which is the brand they use to export. The lady affectionately refers to the owner, Edna. You will see the different activities, including sowing, preparation, seeding and harvesting. It was very hot, so it is recommended to bring sun cream, glasses and a hat. The good thing is that while you pass through the plantation you can pick pineapples. You can ask to have them cut one with a machete to refresh you. The little yellow ones are the sweetest.
A water spring is being adapted for visitors. Then you will go through the sector of fruit trees that includes passion fruit, carambolas, pitayas, guanábana, lemons, guavas, papayas, yucca, and other crops. The idea is that tourists can appreciate tropical fruits and tubers. They have lots of fruits, so they gave us a gift to take home.
At the end you end up in a large open roofed house to do a fruit and juice tasting that is included in the package. It is possible to include lunch in the day visit, but it is necessary to let them know in advance.