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Newsletter 116 – 20.05.2021

Some years ago, no one expected that Chile, a country with temperate fruits, was going to be one of the main suppliers of southern citrus. To achieve this, the sector made several successful changes, which coincided with an increase in demand in the northern markets.

Chile is well known throughout the world for its temperate fruits, such as grapes, apples, kiwis or stone fruits. Traditionally it was not considered a citrus country. Its geographical position places it in the limit zone for a quality citrus production. For many years, the production was limited and destined in the first place to supply the local market. 70% of the production had this destination, exporting only about 20-30,000 tons. Lemons, some oranges and very few mandarins were exported the most to North America, Europe and Asia.

But, in the last 20 years, the scene has changed radically, with Chile currently being one of the main citrus suppliers in the southern hemisphere. This was achieved thanks to the changes made by the citrus sector and the favorable evolution in foreign markets, especially in the United States. The Chilean success is closely linked to the growing demand for off-season citrus in the US. In this market a great boom took place and most of the Chilean exports are directed there (86% of the total).

The changes that Chile made:
  • Migration of crops to the north
  • Originally, citrus fruits were grown mainly in the metropolitan region and VI, concentrating 60% of the surface a few years ago. Currently the VI region lost importance (16% of the surface) and the crops are further north; in regions IV (27%), V (25%) and the Metropolitan (31%).
  • Changes in the importance of species
  • Originally the two most important citrus fruits were: oranges (45% of the surface) and lemon (40%). The participation of mandarins was minimal (14%). These relationships were practically reversed. Currently, mandarins are the most cultivated (38% of the surface), followed by lemons (33%) and finally oranges (28%).
  • Less risk of frost
  • Frosts are a constant threat to the Chilean citrus industry and have caused great damage. Based on this experience, the producers have changed the location of the plantations, choosing those lots with lower risks.
  • Varietal changes
  • In the case of sweet citrus and especially mandarin oranges, this was essential. Chile was known for its clementines, but in the early 2000s it began to grow W. Murcott, which became a great success. In 2002 and 2003 it shipped the first boxes; in 2020 it shipped 130,000 tons of W. Murcott. Currently, 72% of the total mandarins exported by Chile are late, with the W. Murcott / Nadorcott standing out. It enters the United States as W. Murcott, while in Europe as Nadorcott, having to pay royalties in that market.
  • In the case of oranges there was also a varietal change, although it was not as radical as the case of mandarins. The successful orange was Fukumoto, an early Navel, with big results in Chile. Thanks to this, it is currently the most exported variety (32% of the total). The supply is completed by the late Navels (Lane Late, Navel Late), which represent 34% of shipments and the mid-season ones (Washington Navel, Atwood and others) with 32%.
  • Quality improvements
  • The sector is making great efforts to improve quality. In the case of internal quality, they work to achieve a better taste, since the agro climatic conditions of the Chilean citrus regions make it difficult to achieve the highest standards. Another problem is the presence of seeds in mandarins, which in some years are more present than desired. Another problem that arises is the lack of size, due to the scarcity of water. Drought is a serious problem for Chile. These drawbacks affect exports, so for example the lower sweetness limits the success in some Asian markets. The presence of seed and the lack of size are always punished through price.
  • To improve these parameters, courses are being given, advising producers, promoting and supporting the incorporation of new technologies. Greater controls are also carried out on the fruit to be exported.
  • Market diversification
  • This is the most difficult point to face, despite the multiple efforts made. In the US, Chile is a great supplier of fruits, having strong commercial ties and great knowledge of the retail sector. Chilean companies offer a basket of fruits, which is always an advantage to negotiate. The activity is supported by promotion programs carried out by public and private institutions.
  • But in other markets, such as Europe, Chile has to face strong competition. It only supplies these markets occasionally.
  • China
  • At the beginning of last year the Chinese market for Chilean citrus fruits was opened with great expectations placed on this destination. In this way, it is expected to achieve greater diversification of destinations and reduce the current dependence on the United States. Chile has, as an advantage, that they are already supplying China with a wide range of fruits (cherries, grapes, apples), with citrus fruits completing the basket on offer. The companies have a good knowledge of this market and Chile has a good name among importers. In the first season, 5,700 tons of lemons, 1,100 of mandarins and 400 of oranges were shipped. The projection is to double this volume in the short term.

    All the changes made by the Chilean sector and government were very positive and led to success, to the point that citrus fruits, which were a minor fruit, became important in Chilean fruit growing. Currently 14% of Chilean fresh fruit exports are contributed by citrus. A few years ago their share was 5-8%. Along with cherries, they are the fruits whose exportation is growing the most. While in other fruits the volumes shipped are stable (kiwi, pear, avocado) or are falling (apples, grapes), those of citrus are growing year after year.

    Author: Agr. Ing. Betina Ernst