Fruit and vegetables: Citrus fruits’ prices in Taranto drop 48%-Less consumption, too many production costs

Fruit and vegetables: Citrus fruits’ prices in Taranto drop 48%-Less consumption, too many production costs

TARANTO –Italy’s citrus prices on the Taranto marketplace have plummeted by 48 percent, as price increases in the shopping cart and climate change have decimated harvests, while consumers have cut their fruit purchases, which plummeted by 8 percent in quantity compared to last year, to the lowest since the beginning of the century.

This is what Coldiretti Puglia says, based on the Ismea report. The scenario illustrated is during the focus on citrus fruits from the Gulf of Taranto in Massafra, when the area under citrus production increased by 13.7 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year, while there is now a structural collapse in quotations, a cyclical trend in every campaign.

“Prices are not profitable at all. It has been yet another year to forget,” the president of Coldiretti Taranto, Alfonso Cavallo, raises the alarm. “This is a dramatic trend that has heavy effects on the economic and employment levels for agricultural enterprises, but also from the environmental point of view and for the health of consumers, on which it is necessary to intervene with transparency measures to promote consumption on the domestic market of local products and encourage exports,” adds Cavallo.

Adding to the drop in consumption is the uncontrolled arrival of citrus fruits of foreign origin. This contributes greatly-Coldiretti Taranto says again-to burden the economic and employment level of regional agricultural enterprises and also has negative reverberations with regard to consumers, on which it is necessary to intervene with transparency measures to promote the consumption of local products. The result is a drop in consumption, which has fallen for oranges below 15 kilos per person per year,” insists Coldiretti Taranto, “as a result of a decrease that over the past 15 years has ranged from more than 20 percent for oranges to more than 50 percent for mandarins and clementines.

“It is necessary to set up a permanent citrus table, considering that the crisis in the sector is structural, and also a regional citrus plan that provides support for new plantings and a regeneration of the citrus heritage in the province of Taranto,” calls the director of the regional Coldiretti, Pietro Piccioni.

In order to reduce volatility and stabilize prices, it is necessary-Coldiretti Taranto insists-to create virtuous supply chain relationships with agreements that enhance the primacy of Made in Italy. It is also essential to ensure the sustainability of production with multi-year commitments and the recognition of a “fair” purchase price, based on the actual costs incurred, and the start of an immediate promotional plan of the regional citrus product, also in agreement with the Organized Distribution.

“It is certainly not a particularly good period,” explains Lorenzo Bazzana, economic manager of the fruit and vegetable sector of the national Coldiretti, “for fruit and vegetable production, squeezed between climate change, alien insects and pathogens, the economic crisis and declining consumption. Italians have reduced fruit and vegetable consumption by 8 percent in the last year, and compared to 2000, consumption has almost halved. Major initiatives are needed to revive production, restore a fair income to producers and stimulate consumption because at current levels, less than 300 grams of fruit and vegetables per day, our country’s health care spending is in danger of exploding. Work must be done to make our production more distinctive, with an identity linked to the territory and quality, and to revive the consumption of fruit and vegetables, citrus fruits in particular, the basis of that Mediterranean diet that has enabled Italians to achieve records in longevity and health. Distinctiveness, quality, supply chain agreements and the fight against unfair practices for a fair income are the tools to revive the fruit and vegetable economy,” adds Bazzana.

There are 1,041 agricultural enterprises engaged in citrus production in the province of Taranto, 9 percent of the total Ionian agribusiness, with a production of clementines, oranges and tangerines of 2.5 million quintals, says Coldiretti Taranto. This is a heritage to be enhanced through an extraordinary citrus plan and income support. Meanwhile, Puglia has said goodbye to more than 8 million fresh fruit plants in the last 15 years, with the disappearance affecting all the main production facets, with the biggest cut affecting lemons (-27%), oranges (-23%), apples (-17%), clementines and tangerines (-3%).

A dangerous trend also, from an environmental point of view, is the degradation and  abandonment of land that encourages flooding and landslides. Also of concern is climate impact: crops, like forests, can generate ecosystem benefits that extend not just to CO2 removal but, for example, improved biodiversity and air quality, according to an analysis by Climate Network. An adult plant,” Coldiretti Taranto points out, “is capable of capturing 100 to 250 grams of particulate matter from the air, and one hectare of plants removes about 20 kilograms of dust and smog in a year. In other words, so with the slaughter of fruit plants, the capacity to absorb as much as 2 million kilograms of pollutants per year has failed in Italy.

The surge in production costs has affected all phases of farm activity, notes Coldiretti Taranto, from heating greenhouses to fuels for moving machinery, from raw materials to fertilizers. The expenses also more than doubling for packaging, with increases affecting nets and envelopes (+72%), paper for stamps and labels, as well as, corrugated cardboard for crates (+77%). The same trend of price increases goes for wooden crates, while delivery times are also lengthening, in some cases even quintupling.

Trade barriers are compounded by the damage caused by unfair competition – Coldiretti Taranto denounces-with almost 1 out of 5 food products imported into Italy that do not comply with regulations on health and environmental protection or workers’ rights in force in our country.

 It is necessary that all products entering national and European borders respect the same criteria, ensuring that behind the food, Italian and foreign, on sale on the shelves, there is a similar path of quality that pertains to the environment, labor and health, according to the principle of reciprocity. The crisis of Italian fruit puts at risk not only the health of citizens but also the future of the more than ten thousand young farmers that have chosen to invest in the fruit and vegetable sector. The most popular among farmers under 35, Coldiretti, concludes in stressing that this is “a new generation of entrepreneurs who have, in recent years, added an important contribution from the point of view of product innovation and crop sustainability that we cannot now afford to lose.