Orri clementines show promise for Chilean citrus growers
It has been a decade since the Israeli-developed late clementine variety branded Orri arrived in Chile but only now is the cultivar starting to gain traction, driven by its larger average size, aroma, and what its proponents describe as a better sweetness-to-acidity ratio compared to W. Murcotts (also known as Nadorcott or Afourer). In the capital Santiago, Fresh Fruit Portal caught up with Andrés Guillon, who represents nursery Tecnocitrus and Exportadora Grower Chile, and Israeli agronomist Shimon Zakai to find out more.
Sitting around a laptop at a hotel in the city's upmarket Las Condes district, Zakai - who represents the variety's development in the Americas - seeks to let the numbers of an Excel spreadsheet speak for him before the interview begins.
He points out that in early June in the Paris Rungis market, Israeli Orris (size III, class I) were fetching €2 a kilo, while South African Satsumas of the same size and grade were getting €1.40.
And pricing was even lower for slightly smaller Peruvian and Argentine easy peelers at the same time.
But why does this matter? Israel is closer to France, so wouldn't it make sense that its fruit beats out competition from South America or South Africa?
The key distinction for both Zakai and Guillon is that this is a very late time to be selling any easy peeler from the Northern Hemisphere. U.S. Minneolas also feature in the stats, but their price was €0.15 lower than the cheapest Orris.
"Orri has longer shelf life than all the others like Tango and W. Murcott. They finish alone in the market, and it’s competing in better shape than the early ones from the Southern Hemisphere," Guillon says.
"The W. Murcotts have very short shelf life, of three to four weeks of picking possibility, while the Orri has between three months and more of what we call post-harvest life," adds Zakai, who also represents other varieties developed by Israel's Agricultural Research Organization (ARO).
"The Afourer group become puffy very quickly and might lose the quality and the firmness."
Zakai says Orris have a much stronger aroma and nice flavor that you don't find in other varieties, with a "full orange color" in the peel.
Guillon reinforces the Israeli agronomist's point, highlighting Orri doesn't just tend to get higher Brix (sweetness) than the easy peelers grown in a similar timeframe, but its acidity is steadier; a crucial factor for flavor balance.
"The faster the acidity drops, the taste of the fruit is just sweet and that's not a citrus taste; that's just water with sugar. The market privileges high acidity and high brix, which is what Orri has," he says.
Zakai also argues that when a fruit retains its acidity, as demonstrated with lemons, it has more anti-bacterial properties.
Sizing up the fruit
Guillon says the relatively larger sizing of Orris compared to W. Murcotts and Tango will have greater relevance in the coming years as more easy peeler volumes come on-line from Chilean fields.
"What is happening in the U.S. is that the W. Murcott varieties are very popular right now, they get a tremendous price in September with more than US$1 net to the grower," he says.
"The problem is the importers in the U.S. are already saying 'be careful with size 5 – we are not going to take 5 any more when the big volume comes'.
"Canada is also going to do the same. There is too much volume in small sizes, so sooner or later importers are going to restrict the 5s."
He says that while W. Murcotts have high volumes in yield with about 50 metric tons (MT) per hectare, 25-30% of the fruit is size 5 or 6.
Zakai claims that due to alternate bearing, in some years 40-50% of a W. Murcott crop can be made up of small fruit.
"Orri is difficult to put the crop on but if you know how to do it you have a very flat curve of production...in Orri we say between 35-45MT (per hectare); in W. Murcott it can be between 25-60MT," he says.
"What you finally see is that you have a high percentage of category A plus - in Orri it’s nearly 90% or even more; some companies they told me they have 92% of Category A. In W. Murcott you are happy if you get 50-60% when it’s high in production."
Another key aspect of Orris is that like the Tango mandarin, the variety was originally irradiated so for the most part it is seedless.
Production and market summary
The bulk of the world's Orri production is set to come from the Northern Hemisphere for some time yet. According to Zakai, there are 6,500 hectares of the variety planted in Israel (representing 30% of the industry), while in Spain because of legal battles estimates vary widely between 2,000-5,000 hectares.
He says combined these two countries produce around 200,000MT of the fruit each year, while there is a further 1,500 hectares of Orris in Florida which has been relatively stagnant due to the state's problems with citrus greening disease, and the industry has "just started planting" in California.
Zakai does not represent Orris in South Africa and can only describe what is taking place in the country as "Orrimania", but in South America the crop is progressing in a range of countries.
"Firstly, remember that in South America all the plantations are younger. There are already 500 hectares planted in Argentina, there are signed contracts of 500 hectares in Uruguay, they have 400 hectares in Peru and signed contracts to take that up to 500.
"In Chile at the end of the year there will be 300 hectares planted. Today we’re opening a new stage of another 600 hectares...it will reach 1,000 in the future," he says, clarifying as part of that quota there will be a planting limit of 150 hectares per year in the near future.
"The fact is that today the export from South America is to the paying northern markets - Europe and the U.S., and Japan and China will open."
Zakai believes the part of Chile most apt for Orri production would be the VI (O'Higgins) region, around the Rapel area.
"It will give you nearly seedless because of the cooler spring. I think it will push a little bit later maturity and better color, and then you will find exactly the hole in the market that you don’t have production from the Southern Hemisphere yet," he says.
"If you put it in Ovalle [in the north] it’s going to be earlier than in the VI region but you can get on time for the Chinese market," adds Guillon.
Zakai responds that Orri itself is better suited to long hauls to the Chinese market.
"China needs minimum three or four weeks on the water – W. Murcott will not do it [from Chile]. Peru is doing it and they green-pick it very early in June," he says.
Exportadora Grower Chile is one of five export companies approved for dealing with Orri, with the others including Agricom, Propal, Rio King and another group whose representatives requested it not be named.
Nursery Tecnocitrus co-owner Juan Ferrada adds the variety is rigorous with a better post-harvest performance than W. Murcott and larger average sizes. The main rootstocks used for the variety in Chile is C-35 and Carrizo citrange, while in certain soil conditions Citrumelo is also recommended.