The citrus fruit segment has changed a lot in the past few decades. Italy used to be the leading producer until the 1970s, while nowadays Spain is the leading producer in Europe and represents a quarter of the global citrus fruit production. New competitors countries are South Africa, Australia, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Portugal, Florida, California and Uruguay.
According to Perri, the sector is studying new tangerine or tangerine-like varieties to extend the commercialisation window. Secondly, (even more worrying for Italian productions) the interest in the development of pigmented citrus is increasing, with Spanish and international groups that have started to create their own brands.
"We need to keep constantly updated. I monitor all the most advanced businesses in the segment and report the state of the art to entrepreneurs wishing to invest in order to continue being competitive on the market."
Orri plant in Huelva (Spain).
The expert recently visited the Eurosemillas facility in Spain. The company holds multiplication and commercialisation rights of important protected cultivars such as Tango Gold tangerines.
Francesco Perri (right) with Rafael Cano (Eurosemillas manager) and his father.
Perri wanted to see the groves of the new Gold Nugget patented cultivar. It's a late variety harvested in April with medium-large grades, rough skin, completely seedless and easy to peel. It comes originally from California and is already grown in various countries. In Italy, groves cover around ten hectares in the Sibari plain.
Above: Gold Nugget oranges. Below: oranges in a crate.
But it's important to assess the suitability of a certain area before planting a specific variety. "Some areas are perfect to grow both early and late varieties, but each case must be evaluated individually."
Perri in front of a Nadorcott tree at Azienda Agricola San Luca (part of OP Giuliano, which holds the exclusive right for the variety in Italy with 500 hectares). Perri is a consultant for OP Giuliano. Below: Nadorcott trees.
Informed entrepreneurs and enlightened technicians are essential for innovation and competitiveness. "This combination is difficult to obtain but it's vital for the survival of the entire sector."
The agronomist mentioned the agreement signed between CREA Acireale and Op Armonia, for which he is citrus scientist specialist. "It involves a breeding programme to obtain crossbreeds suitable to extend the production window, irradiation to make some cultivars seedless and micro-grafting to solve virus and viroid problems. This collaboration between the public and private sectors is exactly the model I've seen in Spain. Just think that the Munoz group has founded Citrus Genesis, a research centre focusing on varietal breeding that collaborates with research institutes in Spain and all over the world. In addition to being leading producers, these groups diversify their sources of income through the management of varieties."
The GCM Citrus (Giner-Canamas-Martinavarro) research group located in Huelva is similar and is made up of three large Spanish groups.
Four-year-old Tango Gold orchard.
The expert hopes Italy will manage to remain competitive and believes that, once it embraces innovation, domestic citrus production can express its full capabilities. "We can be leaders when we work together, also in terms of the environmental sustainability of our productions. What's important is inverting the trend according to which our direct competitors are considering us as a market to conquer rather than a dangerous competitor!"
Agronomist Francesco Perri
Cell.: (+39) 338 4164800