Brazil Citrus

A “Newcomer” to the Industry


Brazil is by far the largest producer of oranges in the world, but this current designation has not been long lived. Citrus was introduced by the early travelers from Europe and citrus fruits and juices have been consumed by the residents of Brazil since that time. But plantings of significant size for trade, a citrus ‘industry’ for citrus fruit and juice, only began in the early 20th century.


Land Ho!


On April 23rd in the year 1500, Pedro Alvares Ceabral and his fleet of ships is credited with Portugal’s discovery of Brazil. But controversy has loomed for over 165 years- was this an ‘accidental’ find? Or was Cabral’s journey intentional? Over time, many historians have attributed this discovery as an accident and speak of storms, currents, and loss of direction and, as some would claim, have even invented hypotheses to account for this ‘accidental’ discovery. But as stated in an historical account:


“Portugal in Cabral’s day far surpassed other European nations in maritime experience and geographical knowledge…No experienced navigator who has studied minutely the history of Cabral’s discovery has concurred in the opinion that it was accidental. To set out for the Cape of Good Hope and to arrive at Porto Seguro, Brazil is hardly a maritime feat of high order”


(The Discovery of Brazil-Accidental or Intentional? C.E. Nowell.

The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 16. No. 3, August 1936.
Pp 311-338).


Arrival of Citrus


The early explorers describe the land as ‘abounding’ with animals and flora including the prized Brazilwood (which was harvested and exported back to Portugal nearly depleting most of the native coastal vegetation of Brazil) but the explorers did not mention citrus fruits. By the 1540’s, however, historical references recorded by several sources confirm the growing of oranges, lemons, and citrons that had been brought to Brazil by the early Portuguese explorers. In 1549 the Jesuits arrived in Bahia and according to observations,… “[T]he grounds surrounding their residences were soon transformed into beautiful orchards, which included many citrus trees... by the first half of the seventeenth century, the accounts of the Spanish and Portuguese voyagers contained many references to the spread of citrus in the New World” (History and Development of the Citrus Industry Vol 1. 1967 H.J. Webber).


The Start of an Industry


Commercial plantings did not begin until the early 1900’s. The ‘first phase’ of the citrus industry started with the export of oranges to Argentina in 1916 and then to Europe ten years later. In 1938 and 1939, 5.5 and 5.6 million boxes respectively were shipped from Brazil. Exports dropped drastically during the Second World War; and, in 1937, Tristeza, a virus devastating to citrus plants caused the death of over 12 million trees over the next 2 decades. In 1946, the nature of the virus was recognized and growers started replanting with Tristeza-tolerant rootstocks. Although some additional difficulties arose from the switch of the trees and rootstock  by 1965 exports again reached 4.7 million boxes.


Florida’s Loss is Brazil’s Gain


On December 12th & 13th of 1962, the Florida citrus growing region experienced a tree-killing freeze. Although the Florida citrus industry has recovered from several ‘impact’ freezes over the history of the industry, the 1962 freeze was significant because of the growing demand in North America for orange juice. To fill the Florida freeze-created void of oranges for processing into juice, Lykes-Pasco, a large integrated citrus grower & processor in Florida and the German-Brazilian group Fischer formed a Sao Paulo based joint venture, Citrosuco, to sustain orange cultivation for orange juice production. In 1963-64, orange juice exports from Brazil grew from 5,313 metric tons of FCOJ(frozen concentrated orange juice) to almost 1.3 million metric tons in 1999-00 (The role of Brazil in the world orange juice market: a threat posed by CVC. Fernandes, W. & Spreen, T.H. 2002).  Orange juice production in Brazil reached a peak in 2010 at 1.6 million metric tons and is forecasted at 1.2 million metric tons for 2014, a drop attributed to both economic factors and production decreases.


Globalization, Consumer Demand
and the Future


Communication technology has enabled the world to connect instantly; agricultural technology has drastically improved mankind’s ability to grow more crops, in more places, with greater yields. Globalization has facilitated year-round availability of food items to many consumers of what once was considered a short-lived ‘delicacy’.  Consumers can be swayed with advertising, trends and ‘tastes’ change over time, and Mother Nature will always be unpredictable. But oranges and orange juice will undoubtedly retain their worldwide importance and remain significant for the Brazilian consumer and the Brazilian economy.


Farmers and Nature


Brazil’s total citrus production for the 2013-14 crop year is forecast at 17.8 million metric tons. This is an increase in spite of Brazil’s 10-year fight to produce citrus from groves with trees that are dying from the deadly disease Huanglongbing (HLB). Worldwide, citrus growers are threatened by the spread of this pathogen; researchers and experts in all fields of the agricultural sciences are working tirelessly to find a cure and stop the spread of HLB. Although not a threat to humans, a citrus tree that contracts HLB will die.

Size Matters


Sao Paulo, the largest citrus region in Brazil, has been successful in mitigating losses by implementing preventive measures, eradicating diseased plants, and replanting with trees certified to be free of disease . In size context, Brazil at 3.28 million square miles, is geographically slightly larger than the continental United States at 3.04 million square miles. The state of Florida which processes 95% of the orange juice produced in the United States is not quite 66,000 square miles. Brazil estimates 15%, or about 240,000 acres of the citrus in Sao Paulo has experienced the HLB disease incidence. Florida’s entire citrus acreage is about 525,000 acres.


Tahiti Limes


Brazilian Tahiti lime exports have grown nearly 15% since 2011 as reported by ABPEL, the Brazilian Association of Fresh lime producers and exporters. This variety of lime is known as a juicy and tasty fruit and used in many drinks and food recipes. Booming in recent years due to the demand of the United Arab Emirates, Tahiti lime exports grew by 7.96% in 2013 to just under 34,000 metric tons, making the fruit the fifth most exported by Brazil by volume. Most of the production is in the south of Brazil (65%), although the north (35%) has been continuously increasing production in recent years. The Brazilians are also large consumers of limes and use the fruit in appetizers, snacks, and drinks.

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