Italy: Future of citrus fruit

The citrus fruit sector has evolved a lot in the past ten years. The "Evoluzione e prospettive dell'Agrumicoltura di domani" convention promoted by the L.A.ME.T.A. association with the sponsorship of the Ordini dei Dottori Agronomi e Forestali della Provincia di Cosenza, Matera e Taranto, of the Comune di Corigliano Calabro and of the Cosenza Chamber of Commerce examined the future perspectives for Italy.

The speakers.

Agronomist Francesco Perri and Marco Eleuteri from AOP Armonia analysed he current crop situation.

"In the 1970s, Italy was the main citrus fruit producer in the Mediterranean. Then we sort of slowed down, but we must do something! Our country has over 170 thousand hectares dedicated to citrus fruit. The Sibari plain alone grows half the national production of clementines," explained Francesco Perri (in the photo). 

The expert underlined that over 80% of clementines is of the Clementine Comune variety, a high-quality fruit even though it has a marketing period of only 45 days. 

The objective is therefore to extend the season. "20 years ago, we started experimenting on various cultivars, analysing their characteristics, harvesting time, productivity, feedback and resistance to various diseases."

Early and late selections were identified to prolong the availability period, going from 45 days to almost 5 months (from October to February). Another fundamental aspect was that of finding out which territories are the best to grow the different varieties.

As regards oranges, Perri says that "research is key here too. As new varieties are introduced, one of the main tasks is find the best rootstock combinations."

New Clementine and Tarocco easy-peeler seedless hybrids were developed, and some of them are even pigmented, like for example Mandared, which ripens in February.

The expert also took the chance to present two new varieties - a spontaneous mutation of Clementine Spinoso that ripens in October and one of Clementine Comune that ripens in January.

"We need to map all the territories and grow produce efficiently while keeping costs down. We also need to be flexible, invest in communication and create networks to improve our capability to innovate and be more competitive."

Marco Eleuteri (in the photo) talked about the situation at an international level, making a comparison with Spain.

"In the past 8 years, citrus fruit production in the Mediterranean has grown by 15%, especially at an extra-European level. During that same time, production in Italy dropped by 40% while Spain grew."

During the 2007/08 campaign, Italy was the second global producer with 3.5 million tons just behind Spain (5.3 million tons). Eight years later, Italy is in fourth position with 2.3 million tons (-35% in 7 years), whereas Spain has grown by 20% reaching 6.5 million tons.

Below charts in Italian:

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"Actually, if we just analyse the data concerning easy peelers, our country is in fifth place behind Spain, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt."

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"91% of easy peelers produced in Italy is consumed locally and only 9% is destined to exports, whereas Spain exports 79% of its production. It is also important to point out that our country imports more easy peelers of those it exports. Spain went from being our main competitor to being our main supplier. Our clementine imports are concentrated in October and February-March."

"The price trend in Spain is similar to the Italian one. The main Spanish operators invest a lot in R&D, cooperate with research centres such as IVIA (Istituto Valenciano di Investigazione Agraria) and acquire rights to produce protected foreign varieties." 

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In addition to stressing the need/opportunity to introduce an all-Italian clementine range, Eleuteri talked about the possibility of three or four companies working together on a breeding project to widen the variety range and improve existing varieties.

"We need to develop the two new varieties presented by Perri to become competitive once again. The companies taking part in this project will also establish rules according to the Club formula. I would like it to be called Clementina italiana tradizionale. The Club would also work to promote the varieties in all the main international markets."

Josè Vercher, general director of "Bollo International Fruit", one of the main Spanish citrus fruit producers, also attended the convention. He underlined the need for a change in attitude in Italy to focus on what producers are good at. 

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