A lean year looms for the industrial citrus processing sector
“The citrus campaign is coming to an end, given the small quantities of blonde oranges and lemons available, and the overall results appear to be much lower than originally expected,” said Salvatore Imbesi (in photo), president of the network of companies that includes three important companies operating in the Sicilian area, namely Ortogel and Agrumi-Gel, which are citrus processing industries, and the Service Calatino cooperative.
According to the manager, the negative situation is due to multiple factors. First and foremost, the small quantity of fruit available for processing, in parallel with the constant increase in the price of all production factors, from packaging to methane, diesel fuel, and electricity.
“The increases have exceeded the costs of the raw material, subsequently leading to exhausting negotiations with both customers and raw material suppliers for signing contracts, in order to be able to guarantee production continuity,” said Imbesi.
Ortogel and Agrumi-Gel process exclusively the best citrus fruits from the Sicilian supply chain, including blood and blonde oranges, lemons and tangerines, but also Calabrian excellences such as bergamot and grapefruit. The products obtained are natural and concentrated juices, clear and cloudy juices, cold and hot extracted essences, conventional and organic juices and essences, dried peels for pectin extraction, dried peels for animal feed, and bioethanol. The farms are also equipped with suitable facilities for processing summer fruits (prickly pears, apricots, peaches and nectarines) and pomegranate, with the aim of obtaining their two main by-products, namely fresh arils for the fresh-cut sector and 100 percent juice.
The upcoming 2022/23 citrus season is not shaping up to be a year of abundance for the processing industry, given the current weather conditions, characterized by constant temperatures of 40°C and a total absence of rainfall, which have favored fruit drop with major losses of budding fruit. The low fruit availability is also consequent to the spread of the Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV) that is afflicting many plants not yet renewed with resistant rootstocks.
“If we wanted to draw a comparison with the very unfortunate current events, we can say that the Sicilian citrus sector has been in the midst of a war for many years. It is a battle lived out on the skin of indebted producers – which is never talked about, because it does not claim any victims – who are closing their businesses daily in utter silence and indifference. It is especially sad to observe the behavior of insiders who hope, in order to stay afloat, in the financial meltdowns of others to the extent that in order to acquire new customers, they take on the increased production costs even when they exceed revenues. I wonder what logic could ever drive the contradiction of wanting to work at a loss. In such a situation, in fact, it is only the processing companies in the primary sector that risk collapse, and certainly not the ones that commercialize derivatives reaching the final consumer,” continued Salvatore Imbesi.
“In Sicily, we are also suffering heavily from the consequences of the Tristeza Virus (CTV), not realistically evaluated by those who are supposed to scientifically and conscientiously dictate the line of agricultural policies. Specifically, the lack of planning and urgent conversion of hectares of land affected by the virus, which continues to mow down citrus groves. That is why, in most cases, each producer has shouldered the costs of plant renewals, and it is therefore thanks to these reckless and far-sighted farmers that we can count on the productivity of new plantations. These are small plants that, while waiting for full production, promise an average of 25 kilograms of fruit, compared to the 100 kilograms of the most mature plants. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that, five years from now, citrus groves undergoing renovation will produce significantly lower quantities of fruit for processing than the volumes usually processed.”
“We believe that it is time to change direction, and therefore strongly ask the government to provide clarity on the volumes of citrus fruits destined for processing and the relative quantities of derivatives marketed. No less important, we should take note that climate changes that lead to temperatures of 40°/50°C or water bombs and hailstorms that are no longer sporadic, cannot be solved by categorizing them under natural disasters. We are moving towards the desertification of green areas and, as is well known, agriculture is already paying a very high price if this ecological crisis cannot be stemmed. This means preparing ourselves to live in a world with fewer resources, less energy, less abundance, but without being caught unprepared since we are already out of time,” concluded Salvatore Imbesi.