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Producers raise awareness of the threats from HLB

Higher prices have allowed companies in Sicilian citrus farming to survive

"The 2021/22 orange crop year showed a -30% drop in production compared to the previous one, which instead saw an overproduction. The drop occurred firstly because of the spring frosts, then because of the intense and already summer-like heat, which weakened all the island's crops, since the recorded temperatures remained above 40°C for many days, with peaks of 45°C, and even 48 degrees," said Gerardo Diana, a citrus grower on the slopes of Mount Etna. "The torrid summer with strong Sirocco winds was followed by an autumn characterized by heavy rains that in some areas turned into flooding, which suffocated the root system of oranges and lemons. Finally, there was a period of drought with more than 150 days without rain that required massive, energy-intensive irrigation from February to the present."

Gerardo Diana

"The decreased production," the farmer adds, "has allowed for a more business-friendly trend. In fact, the campaign was fairly regular, with a brief stop close to the Easter holidays. Immediately after that, the commercial trend continued steadily, finishing with the red crop until 15-20 May. The Italian blond crop also had a greater recognition for its quality this year, thanks, or rather unfortunately, to a decreased quantity of product from Spain, which suffered from a prolonged transport strike, summed with a lower export from South Africa, but also from Egypt, due in both cases to the exponential increase in the cost of containers."

"On the commercial front, we can say that the red fruit has seen a price increase of 25 to 30 percent at production. The change in value is sometimes due to the origin of the product from the different areas and the perceived added value by the market, as for PGI-labeled products, or otherwise depending on the commodity lots," said Diana.

All of this took place in a year when commodity prices skyrocketed. A good portion of increased revenues earned by producers have turned to dust by increases not only in raw materials but also in the cost of fertilizers, agrochemicals and energy costs.

"Even our blond orange has seen a percentage price increase of about 30 percent compared to last year. On a positive note, the commercial channels for blond varieties have grown over time," added Diana.

"The advantages are at least three," reveals the citrus grower, "the first of which, as self-evident as it may perhaps be, is not trivial; namely, our producers have had the opportunity to become acquainted with new commercial outlets; the second advantage is that we have had the chance to promote the quality of our blond orange in markets that until now have been precluded by the prevailing presence of the Iberian product; and the third is that we have been able to unload the plants earlier than expected, avoiding the risk of exposing them under stress until June and until the campaign will be definitively closed. In a nutshell, we can say that the balance remains moderately positive for the 2021/2022 orange season, which is because the higher price has helped to avoid companies being weakened under the massive increases in production costs."

Reminder to Institutions
Finally, Gerardo Diana addressed a highly serious warning to European and Italian institutions first and foremost. "We are deeply concerned about the impending threat of HLB, which could enter Italian territory with the upcoming summer imports. Speaking up for my fellow citrus producers, I urge the supervisory bodies to pay the utmost attention. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Citrus greening, and spotting it in our countryside would mean the end of this productive sector, striking a mortal blow to the Sicilian economy, with serious social consequences."


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