Drought downgrades the estimates for 2020/21 citrus harvest in Brazil

Production was recalculated for 18.4 million less boxes, as the specialists explain

Drought at the end of the year in Brazilian citrus belt caused numerous impacts on agriculture in general, including citrus production in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, which hold the major responsibility for the national citrus production. AgriBrasilis interviewed Juliano Ayres, Renato Bassanezi and Vinícius Trombin, who are, respectively, General Manager, Researcher and Coordinator of Crop Estimation Research at Fundecitrus.

Vinícius Trombin

AgriBrasilis – What is the prediction for the 2020/21 harvest? Did the prolonged drought at the end of the year affect yield?

Vinícius Trombin – The re-estimate of the 2020/21 citrus harvest for the citrus belt in São Paulo State and southeast of Minas Gerais State, published on December 10, 2020 by Fundecitrus, carried out with the cooperation of Markestrat, FEA-RP / University of São Paulo and FCAV / Unesp (State University of São Paulo), is of 269.36 million boxes of 40.8 kilos. The first re-estimate, carried out in September, already showed a drop when compared to the initial projection, but the late arrival of the spring rains and the intense heat, diminished the yield expectation to a lesser extent. In this second re-estimation, the reduction is of 18.40 million boxes, which represents a decrease of 6.39% compared to the initial estimate. If this new projection is confirmed at the end of the harvests, it will be the biggest harvest break in the citrus belt since 1988/89, when a historical series was obtained, with a 30.36% retraction compared to the previous season. Of the total harvest, around 19.35 million boxes are to be produced in Minas Gerais alone.

The damage caused by weather conditions varied from region to region, even among plots on the same farm. However, in practically all regions of the citrus belt, trees signing water stresses were identified. Initially, symptoms appeared in plants grafted on rootstocks less resistant to water stress, such as the Swingle citrumelo, but soon they were also noticed in citrus trees grafted on Rangpur lime and other rootstocks.

In regions with the highest rainfall deficit, a higher frequency of orchards with trees that showed leaf curling, changes in the green shade and intense defoliation, drying of branches, sunburnt fruits, wilting, reduced growth and decreased amount of juice. The occurrence of sparse rains, followed by drought periods, led to a new phase of fruit growth, but in some cases, the internal structure of the peel did not have enough plasticity, triggering depressions and cracks, which resulted in premature fall of these fruits. Trees that were weakened by some nutritional deficiency or phytosanitary problems, such as greening, were more susceptible to the effects of drought, produced smaller oranges and had a more pronounced fruit decay.

In many orchards, long-term drought and intense heat have caused irreversible damage, such as death of plants scattered around the plot. More drastic cases were seen in some rainfed plots, mainly in the North, Northwest and Center sectors, where all or almost all of the trees in the plot died.

The harvest-break was not greater because a considerable portion of the production was not as exposed to the dry weather. In general, this group is composed by the production of 34.78 million citrus trees of early varieties, which were mainly harvested before the most critical phase of dry weather; 43.36 million trees of the mid-season and late varieties, which are in irrigated orchards; and 26.41 million trees of the mid-season and late varieties, which are in orchards located in the regions of Itapetininga and Avaré municipalities, located in the State of São Paulo, areas that had lower rainfall deficits. These trees together comprise 60% of the productive orange trees in the citrus belt.

AgriBrasilis – What is the representativeness of Brazilian citrus in the world?

Vinícius Trombin – Brazil is home to the most competitive citrus park in the world. According to data from the USDA, Brazil accounts for about 35% of the world’s orange production, approximately 63% of the world’s production and almost 80% of the international orange juice trade.

AgriBrasilis – About the presence of greening in Brazil, what should we be concerned about? What are the most current statistics?

Renato Bassanezi

Renato Bassanezi –   Greening was first reported in Brazil in 2004, in the center of the state of São Paulo. Since then, it has spread throughout the citrus park and is currently present in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul States. In São Paulo, the largest citrus producing center in Brazil, 20.87% of orange trees had symptoms of the disease in 2020. According to the São Paulo State Agricultural Defense Coordination, since 2005, more than 55 million orange trees have been eliminated due to greening.

This disease has no cure and causes serious damage to the affected plants, with considerable loss of fruit production and quality. Over the years, the plant withers and loses its productive capacity.

The current situation could be worse if, from the beginning, prevention measures of new infections had not been adopted by most farmers, such as the use of healthy seedlings, the elimination of diseased plants and the strict control of the vector insect, the psyllid Diaphorina citri. In Florida, USA, where the disease was reported in 2005 and protection against new infections was not adequate, more than 90% of citrus plants are contaminated and orange production has fallen by more than 70% since then.

Over the years and with the knowledge generated by research, the control of greening has been improved, including measures with a wider range of disease prevention, such as regional management of the psyllid, with coordinated and simultaneous applications of insecticides by all citrus growers in the region. and the elimination of diseased plants also in non-commercial properties, such as urban and rural yards, pastures and woods, around commercial properties. 

Associated with these, measures to accelerate and increase yield have also been adopted to mitigate the losses caused by greening, such as choice of more productive combinations of canopy and rootstock, densest planting, most adequate fertilization and irrigation of orchards. Thus, the state of São Paulo has managed to maintain its production relatively stable even in the presence of the disease and with the reduction of the planted citrus area.

Juliano Ayres

AgriBrasilis – What are the main challenges facing Fundecitrus today?

Juliano Ayres – Fundecitrus aims to maintain the health and competitiveness of Brazilian citrus. In this sense, to continue working for the generation of knowledge that allows an increasingly efficient control of greening, which is the worst and most destructive disease in the sector worldwide, yet to be cured. In addition, developing mechanisms for an increasingly sustainable citrus industry under the economic, social and environmental pillars.