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Huelva increasingly facing a shortage of pickers

"The Nova and Clemenvilla will help us forget about the poor quality early clementines"

Huelva expects to harvest 550,000 tonnes of citrus, with this volume divided half and half between oranges and clementines. Huelva's citrus sector accounts for 25% of Andalusia's entire production, but is the region's leading clementine producer.

"We have ideal climatic conditions for the cultivation of clementines, so we are the first to reach the market with extra early varieties such as the Clemenrubi, Oronules and Orogross," explains Lorenzo Reyes, president of the Association of Citrus Growers of Huelva. "Later, we differentiate ourselves with the exceptional Clemenvilla and Nova, just like the Region of Valencia does with the Clemenules, and we also stand out in the cultivation of the late mandarins Nadorcott and Orri."

According to Lorenzo Reyes, although the volumes of Valencian clementines have been significantly reduced, this has so far not been reflected in the prices, since the extra-early Clemenrubi and Oronules from Huelva have had a disappointing performance in the market due to quality issues.

"Although the Oronules has been much better than the Clemenrubi, the quality has not been anywhere near the usual, and the growing supply of Nadorcott and Orri clementines from the southern hemisphere makes it even more difficult to sell varieties that don't have the same colour and sweetness," he says.

At this time, Huelva's citrus growers are working with the Clemenules, whose volumes are not significant in the province. "We hope that the market will become a bit livelier and that we'll see an increase in prices with the arrival of the Nova and Clemenvilla clementines, which come with excellent calibres, Brix and juiciness, and which also share the market with the Valencian Clemenules, whose production has dropped a lot this year," says Lorenzo Reyes.

Worrying lack of pickers

While for the citrus producing areas of the Mediterranean basin, such as the Region of Valencia and Murcia, the drought is becoming an increasingly bigger problem, Huelva, which has access to dammed water, has its irrigation needs covered for at least three years. However, they are very concerned about the lack of pickers, both in the short and long term.

"Huelva's agriculture has diversified a lot in the last decade, and with the proliferation of berry plantations, such as blueberries, a labour-intensive crop, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough pickers for both crops. We are asking for help through the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries together with other associations, such as Freshuelva, to facilitate the signing of contracts with temporary employment agencies. Last year, many fields were left unharvested, so we will see how things will go this time."

Consumers tend to squeeze the oranges
Huelva has carried out a big reconversion from oranges to clementines in recent years. Growers have opted for mandarins and clementines due to their greater profitability in the market.

"In the past, there were interesting price differences between different orange varieties, whereas now, in addition to being lower because of the global oversupply, the prices do not differ much from one variety to another, as there is no clear and organised distinction in the market. Furthermore, for pure convenience, current consumers tend to squeeze all oranges into juice and prefer to eat mandarins because they are easier to peel," explains the president of the association. "The citrus juice industry is booming."

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