The liquidation of Citrícola Salteña, one of the emblematic companies of the Uruguayan citrus industry, was decreed on Friday the 15th. This put the company in a difficult situation and affected the stability of the entire sector, precisely when the country is going through a strong economic and labor crisis aggravated by COVID-19, which has caused the closure of multiple companies and the loss of thousands of jobs in all areas.
When asked if Uruguay could maintain its export potential if Citricola Salteña closed, Regino Lopez, an entrepreneur, producer, and owner of Sanducitrus said it wasn't possible, adding that it would be chaotic and a real shame as it is a profitable company.
The businessman highlighted the potential of this activity as a currency generator and a source of direct and indirect job sources. "The options are bankruptcy, with the loss of jobs and exports that entails, or that the bank makes an in-depth analysis of the international reality of the citrus market to finance the operation in a way that enables productive reconversion, changing oranges for high-priced mandarins,” he said.
According to Lopez, Uruguay's citriculture has great potential. Unfortunately, the country has lagged far behind the rest of Latin America.
Market preferences have changed and this has had a significant impact on production values. "Today, oranges leave losses. It costs producers around 600 dollars to produce a ton of oranges, which they sell at an average of $ 700 FOB.” This means that if they face a contingency in which they lose 20 or 30% of their production, such as hail or lack of water, they would already be producing at a loss. "That does not happen with Tango or Orri mandarins, which cost $ 620 per ton but are sold at $ 1,400 and $ 1,600 per ton, respectively."
"In 2017 citrus growers asked the BROU (Bank of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay) for financing to convert their orange crops to mandarins. However, the bank hasn't approved that financing for reasons that are unknown to me," Lopez said. "We ask that production be promoted. Citrus can be the future of Uruguay. Despite all the difficulties we have we've managed to win markets. What would our ceiling be if we corrected those difficulties?" Lopez wondered.
He also highlighted that "citrus can generate 6 or 7 times more employment than afforestation and 40 or 50% more in foreign exchange earnings. But that will only happen if we do things right."