Francisco Climent owns plantations in Nules that yield 24,000 kilos of Clemenules, the flagship citrus variety in Castellon. He retired a month ago and is now distressed about the sector's situation. "The campaign is disastrous," he says. Pascual Pla, president of the Nulexport cooperative, claims that it is the "worst season in 25 years." Producers and cooperatives agree and explain that there has been a "perfect storm", with pressure from South African imports, rain and falling consumption in Europe.
Agrarian organizations, irrigators, cooperatives and exporters are holding protests this Tuesday in 15 municipalities of La Plana Baixa to demand a revision of the agreement between the European Union and South Africa, as they blame the decline in prices and sales to the competition of imports from this country.
Climent and Pla explain that, in addition to the South African issue, "everything seems to have happened at the same time. Not only South Africa has had an impact, but also the rains, the blockades on the French border by the yellow vests, or the fact that temperatures in Europe have not been adequate and consumption has suffered. Supermarkets say that sales have dropped by 30%," explains the president of Nulexport, who says that, at this point, exports have dropped by 25% compared to the same period of 2017.
According to Climent, in the first part of the campaign (in October), "there was nothing to do. The oranges from South Africa have been entering until the end of November without any kind of phytosanitary controls." Last year, there was less production and purchases were made in August; this year, traders have waited until October, and that's when the rains came," says the Nules-based producer, who also recalls that "there is now a lot of Clemenules for the short two months we have for the harvest."
The head of Nulexport believes that the initial projections are correct, but that "sales are not going as well as in 2017," and points out that in this season, given the lower production, "people may not may as willing to buy as last year."
The producer from Nules warns that 30% of Clemenules may be left unharvested. As a sign of the fall in prices, he points out that in October he sold one kilo for 0.27 Euro, and in December he sold the same fruit for 0.21 Euro. "The problem is that if you don't harvest the fruit, the tree won't bloom in the next campaign, so there are people who sell for almost nothing, just 0.15 Euro per kilo, only to clear the tree," says Climent, adding that in the past, the harvest lasted four months and now it only lasts two.
The most pressing issue for the sector is to change the South African treaty with the EU. "The first part of the campaign has been severely affected by the imports from South Africa. With the previous agreement, South African mandarins could enter until November; now they can do so until December, becoming a direct competitor for us, but without having to adhere to the same phytosanitary requirements," says Pla. "Our exports have tougher phytosanitary conditions in other countries than those set by the EU for South Africa, and they can also go to markets such as Russia, which is banned for Spain," he says.
Influence of large retailers
The imports from South Africa have had a fatal influence on the citrus fruits from Castellon, but at the same time, they have brought to light the endemic problems that this activity has been dragging on for years. "In the past, oranges were sold in auctions; now, however, supermarket chains dominate 80% of the European market and they set the price, not the cooperative or the grower," says the president of Nulexport, who regrets that the number of cooperatives has been reduced significantly in recent years.
The leader of Nulexport also points to the possible creation of new citrus varieties as a way to expand the campaign, but small producers are reluctant, because they believe that only large investors would be able to carry it out and benefit from it.