Italy has always been home to advanced and professional citrus fruit cultivation, able to stand out for the excellent level of its products. "Despite the many problems, Italy is still considered the leader when it comes to healthy and tasty food, and we need to maintain this position. This is why varietal innovation is only one of the steps forming part of a wider and more articulated path towards professionalization," reports citrus scientist specialist Francesco Perri after spending a few days in Spain with Marco Eleuteri, CEO of OP Armonia.
Marco Eleuteri, Francesco Perri
The Italian delegation from OP Armonia was welcomed by top players from the citrus fruit sector such as Eurosemillas and Bollo International Fruits Group and strengthened the agreement program that has already led to the introduction of patented varieties (such as Tango Gold tangerines) and to the setting up of over 50 hectares of new groves over a couple of years.
Marco Eleuteri and Fernando Ortega (Sales manager for Eurosemillas, holder of multiplication and commercialization rights of important protected cultivars such as Tango Gold tangerines).
"Tango Gold is a variety that ripens between mid-February and late March. 12 hectares have already been planted and 40 more will be added over the next two years to reach over 50 hectares in total. Together with the introduction of another 50 hectares of the Italian Perrina cultivar (patent filed, the latest Italian clementine which ripens between early January and early February), this will enable OP Armonia to further extend its soft citrus calendar. We are also hoping to add new exclusive varieties from the national development and improvement program OP Armonia is working on together with CREA."
Marco Eleuteri, Rafael Cano Pecci, Francesco Perri
The first stop of the Spanish trip (September 20th-23rd, 2020) was at Eurosemillas in Cordova, Andalusia. Eleuteri, Perri and the other Italian delegates were welcomed by Rafael Cano Pecci (general director) and Fernando Ortega (sales manager) for a tour of "El Oidor". "It is a true gem. 250 hectares of Tango tangerines have already been planted and another 50 will be planted over the next two years," explained Perri.
"El Oidor" Tango orchard in Cordova.
Various technical, agronomic and commercial topics were discussed. "The respect our Spanish counterparts feel towards us means Italy and Spain can cooperate in a sector where they are often considered competitors. We have a lot to learn from the Spanish when it comes to entrepreneurial dynamism, courage to invest in innovation and effective approach towards foreign markets, but we are not left behind when it comes to experience, perfectionism, field quality and meticulous checks. There is a lot to be learned and a lot to teach."
Giancarlo Mellone, Marco Eleuteri, Rafael Cano Pecci, Francesco Perri, Lorenzo Mastrapasqua, Mario Mellone.
On the second day, Italian guests were welcomed by a company who are part of the Bollo International Fruits group in Huelva. "This company boasts a turnover of hundreds of millions of Euros a year and over 1,500 hectares of citrus groves in Murcia, Valencia and Huelva. What is more, over the years, Bollo International Fruits has set up a series of international collaborations that make it a leader in the Piel de Sapo melon segment and is also investing in avocadoes (150 hectares, to start)."
The Italian team was welcomed by Paco Albuixech Navalon (Production manager at Bollo Internecional Fruits) and Patricia Gomez Dominguez (Agronomist).
Patricia Gomez Dominguez, Paco Albuixech Navalon, Marco Eleuteri, Francesco Perri, Lorenzo Mastrapasqua, Giancarlo Mellone, Mario Mellone
The final stop was in Benifairò de Valldigna, Valencia, for a meeting at the Bollo processing plant. Pepe Vercher (General manager of Bollo International Fruits) and Paco Albuixech Navalon welcomed the delegation.
Paco Albuixech Navalon, Mario Mellone, Pepe Vercher, Francesco Perri, Giancarlo Mellone, Lorenzo Mastrapasqua, Marco Eleuteri
"Just like all other leading Spanish companies, the Bollo group is so experienced when it comes to exporting overseas that it is already thinking about the varieties to plant to best approach the most recent destinations such as the Chinese market. This must push Italian businesses to renew their varieties. OP Armonia will lead the way for citrus fruit cultivation that keeps up with the times and market needs. We are hoping that our example will be an inspiration."
When copy-and-paste is harmful
Varietal innovation within the soft citrus segment must however only represent the first step for the professionalization of the sector. In addition to the classic business risks, this segment needs agronomic expertise and special attention to turn the introduction of new varieties into capital gain. "Therefore, while it is advisable to follow what Spain is doing, it would be harmful to just copy it," stresses Perri.
"Extra-early varieties, in fact, still could present genetic problems such as the tendency to granulate. This, combined with climate change (just consider last year's warm and dry fall registered both in Spain and southern Italy) and chemical and hormonal practices to push fruit enlargement, leads to products that are not entirely edible." (see photo below)
Early clementines, inedible if repeated hormone treatments are used
"The early produce season is strategic for citrus fruit, as consumers are more drawn to purchasing clementines and tangerines precisely thanks to the nicer flavor of the first fruits. If the fruit is inedible, it ruins the market also in the following months. The Italian big retail chain should not just invest on appearance, but also on flavor. Unfortunately, larger fruit tends to be preferred at the expense of fruits of a smaller size which are actually juicier and with a nicer flavor. Doing so leads to a waste of produce and to losing the trust of consumers, especially in a season such as this one where internal defects are higher than in previous years. Professionalism is the only possible strategy to create value."
Francesco Perri, agronomist
Cell.: (+39) 338 4164800