14 Feb 2024

From agronomist to consultant, travelling the world with a passion for berries and sharing knowledge


Jorge Duarte has developed a solid experience as a consultant for berry growers, travelling the world to share knowledge and guide the growers to find the best solutions for their crops, with an eye to both the farm and the general context, which includes the market requirements and the consumer trends.

In this exclusive interview the Portuguese expert tells the readers of Italian Berry about his job, his life and his passions, and how a technical job evolved to become a passion with a 360° approach to make berries a profitable and long term business for growers from Portugal to Italy, from Egypt to Georgia. 

Berries...who don't had tasted this exquisite fruits? Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries among others, makes the delight of millions of consumers around the World. Has anyone asked themselves how they are produced or where they are grown?

Well, I can tell you something...it starts because of consumer desire but evolves due to the mind of entrepreneurs, investors, Agronomists, and growers.

This year I make 20 years dedicated to this category, before as student, then later as I farm manager and today I am a berry consultant that had picked my love for this plants to be my job. After 10 years in farms between Portugal and The Netherlands, someone has put the seed on my head ( thank you Dennis!) that my green fingers should be used to help other growers to improve. 

With a degree in Agronomy, out of Algarve University (Faro, Portugal) and almost 10 years of experience, I took myself out of my comfort zone, and with the word on the street that someone has become a softfruit consultant in Portugal, i started had calls from growers, colleagues and had friends from the industry recommending my name.

In 2012 my experience was basically strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. At that time it starts my lonely work of designing a strategy in which I would reach the country with my knowledge and experience and the learning process begins. That was the period I traveled in most countries in Europe to learn more about my passion and I learned about other berries also.

Rapidly I understood that I needed to project this idea as a company and Hortitool Consulting was born. The company was created in 2015 and fast forward to 2024 I can tell you the accolades of work as a berry consultant:

2015 Portugal, Spain
2016 Italy
2018 Morocco
2020 Georgia, Türkiye
2021 Egypt, Romania,
2022 Austria
2023 Azerbaijan
2024 India

Seems a lot and actually it is. Most people ask me what is the role of a consultant working at a international level?

Well, the foundation has to be the deep knowledge of the berry crops at the growing and production level and the other part is knowing that being a business of risk you can understand also the decision making at the Agronomy level and also at the management level. We need to understand as consultants, that the risk is not ours, however we need to accept the risk as limitating factor for final decisions, accepting that we need to show all scenarios imaginable to finally be able to make decisions.

This creates a deeper connection with the decision making process and allows the consultant to be kind of coach of the grower, bonding as team work, something I brought to my work being a ex-basketball player. To me has been a social experience to understand the mindset of growers, investors and entrepreneurs also being able to help the day to day operation decisions (on farm vison=Agronomy) but also showing the big picture (off farm vision=agribusiness) of each line of the category from variety selection, growing technology, production calendar, marketing potential and trends of the market.

Along the process, I realize that the Agronomy has become the most important part of the decision making, which most of management part often has difficulty to comprehend in wholesome.

About this topic I normally say: Agronomy and Management is a marriage...but is not 50% for each part as it should. Is more 30 % Agronomy and 70% Management. With that said, it seems less important Agronomy right? Not at all...the 30% share of the Agronomy is knowing all about your crops and if you dont have that knowledge, even with the best management you can fail.

Along this experiences, I see this job as "all in 1", knowing the day by day on the farm, knowing the management and gathering all kinds of information to be ahead and prepared for better decision making on the field and off the field for all the farm team members.

In the end, the person that travels all over to see trends and developments bring more information about potential of the business and where the farming operation can be taken. One image say more than 1000 words, right?

The other part is... just being yourself! What I mean with it? Well...most people has difficulty in the being to understand what kind of style they will use to communicate, being a troubleshooter i don't like to bring bad news to growers and investors because that can create conflict and potential damage client relationships. I choose is communication and honesty as key skills to do so.

Being a consultant is also a risky position, and you need to be prepared as a Olympic athlete...well at least in knowledge and experience.

Other questions i'm asked is "how you can travel so much?" Well I shouldn't do it so much... it can be very heavy for the body and mind all the traveling time in planes, cars and the odd hours that you have to do them. It makes necessary to think about your well-being. What you eat and the physical activity you have determines if you can do this for long time. You need to be in shape: the body and the mind.

Longer periods of travel can damage you health and your private life, if you have a family. So basically you need to find the balance.

Basically being a berry consultant is being passionate about the fruits, must love to grown them and eat them (basically must be a little fanatic), be willing to take the knowledge wherever it is needed, look as social experience that allows to learn the world, do sacrifices ( well-being and family) and the willing of sharing and transfer knowledge about your passion.

"In the end is not only knowing what plants "tell you" in the field but also understanding the grower needs for his business"

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