The Sicilian Tarocco citrus campaign will take place in a few weeks, when the blood oranges will have the optimal pigmentation and sugar content. Because of the abundant rains, this season has seen a slowdown in the ripening and coloration of the fruits, according to Salvatore Scuderi, owner of the family-owned business Ortofrutta dei F.lli Scuderi.
Salvatore Scuderi (director), Salvatore Maugeri (responsible processing and sales) and Salvatore Scuderi (responsible cultivation and harvest)
"Unfavorable weather conditions in some growing areas of Sicily have not only damaged part of the citrus crop, but also made the plots of land inaccessible, delaying the harvest of oranges and lemons. Our flagship product is the Tarocco orange, which we grow in the Catania plain."
Ortofrutta dei F.lli Scuderi, a citrus growing and processing company, was founded in the 1950s, during the period of economic recovery after WWII, by Salvatore Scuderi. Seventy years of innovation and attention to customer needs have enabled the company to win the trust of many customers at home and abroad. The company has an area of some 600 hectares and markets an average of about 8,000 tons of citrus per year.
The commercial calendar takes up the whole year. With a mix of different early and late varieties, the customer can be served uninterruptedly, but the citrus is always harvested at the optimal ripening time.
The main varieties are Navel, Tarocco, Moro, Sanguinello and Nova clementines. In the final phase of the season, starting in April, the company markets oranges of the varieties Tarocco Gallo, Sciara, Meli and Sant'Alfio.
"We started commercializing Navelines two weeks ago. The market demand is rather moderate. Now we are waiting for the coloring of the Moro and Tarocco blood oranges. We need cold temperatures for that to happen. At the moment the demand for citrus is not so high, but the supply is also limited due to unfavorable weather conditions. I would like to underline that for a brand, which targets retail, it is essential to deliver consistently high quality, otherwise you risk returns and disputes. Of course, the price is not determined by cultivation factors, but rather by the market demand. Currently, the market is absorbing our quantities reasonably well. But soon the large quantities of blood oranges will arrive. Hopefully we will be able to sell those smoothly as well," said Scuderi.
The citrus sector is facing a number of problems, some of which became evident at the beginning of the pandemic, namely the shortage of labor and the increase in packaging and energy costs. The problem still remains about making citrus fruit cost-effective for the grower, which in Sicily is made more difficult by the lack of willingness to cooperate within the sector.
"However, in northern Italy there are great examples of networks between growers that bring a lot of benefits. Think for example of the whole apple supply chain. In Sicily, though, there is a strong resistance to change, which is why prices are worse from year to year. This way, the customer continues to unilaterally set the price, even when our production costs rise."
One of the driving factors supporting the Sicilian citrus sector is the increased focus on sustainably and locally grown fruits and vegetables.
"But right now, our biggest sales have actually yet to begin. We are hoping for acceptable prices that will allow companies to better absorb the price increases in logistics, energy and raw materials that have gotten out of hand over the past year."
"We are moving our citrus towards retail outlets, where it is essential to guarantee sufficient volumes of high-quality products, supported by quality certifications. We are increasingly using paper packaging, crates with a deposit system or recyclable plastic packaging. But when we talk about sustainability, we should not only talk about the ecological aspect, but also the economical one. Because if prices remain low, growers will lose motivation and also have fewer resources available to spend on innovation, so investing in the sector will be less and less sustainable," concluded Salvatore Scuderi.