Brazilian scientists create citrus fruit 'to compete' with orange Studies aim to stimulate consumption and offer alternatives to producers in the region of the São Francisco Valley, in the Northeast region

Paulo Palma Beraldo (this story was originally published in O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper)

December 5, 2017 - SÃO PAULO - Sweeter than an orange, seedless and larger than a mandarin. The tangelo is a new fruit, created from the mixture of a tangerine with a grapefruit. The species is one of Embrapa's (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) bets to diversify fruit production in the region of the São Francisco Valley.

In the Semi-arid region (Northeast region), studies with citrus have been conducted since 1996 and involve researchers from two local Embrapa units. Since then, at least 40 citrus species such as oranges, limes, lemons, mandarins and grapefruits have been evaluated.

The agronomist Débora Bastos, one of the leaders of the research, explains that the irrigated tangelo adapted well to the region. According to her, the soil and the climate of the place made the fruit had "excellent quality" for tests with orange

The new fruit adapted well to the climatic conditions of the Brazilian Semi-arid. Photo: Débora Bastos/Embrapa

"The production was spectacular, the fruits have great flavor, color and sugar levels and acidity. If they are sold, they will certainly be accepted", says Bastos. The next step of the research will focus on improving productivity and management techniques. "Many producers came to us wanting to plant this variety. The data is promising", points out the researcher.

Fruits similar to tangelo exist in other countries, but it is little known in Brazil. They are very common in China, the United States, Israel, Turkey and South Africa.

Brazilian tangerine. In São Paulo, researchers from the Agronomic Institute of Campinas (IAC) launched a 100% Brazilian tangerine after 20 years of research. The new fruit has fewer seeds, intense color and is larger than other varieties available.

Tangelo exists in other countries, but is little known in Brazil They are common in China, the United States, Israel, Turkey and South Africa. Photo: Débora Bastos / Embrapa

Thanks to the genetic improvement, the variety is resistant to the brown spot of alternaria, one of the main diseases of the crop, that can even make production unviable and cause the end of an orchard. "It is fundamental that new varieties are resistant to diseases because this reduces the cost and increases the viability of production," says the rural producer Emilio Fávero, president of the Brazilian Association of Table Citrus (Associação Brasileira de Citros de Mesa).

Fávero thinks that works like the ones carried out by Embrapa and IAC are part of a global movement: the development of new citrus varieties with better qualities. "Having new varieties in Brazil is important because we are seeing an increase in tangerine consumption worldwide, with news in research in other countries", says.

The tangerine developed by IAC has fewer seeds, intense color and is larger than other varieties available in the Brazilian market. Photo: Agronomic Institute of Campinas (IAC)

For Ibiapaba Netto, executive director of the National Association of Citrus Juice Exporters (CitrusBR), which represents 90% of the juice processed and exported in the country, research that produces innovation for the Brazilian citrus industry is very welcome. "As a scientific contribution, it is very important to develop this type of research. In terms of market, we must see if there will be demand and acceptance in the future", says Netto.

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) indicate that in 2015 there were almost 50.000 hectares of tangerine in Brazil, which produced 1 million tons of the fruit. The main producers were São Paulo state (35%), followed by Minas Gerais (19%), Paraná (17%) and Rio Grande do Sul (13%).

However, the flagship of the Brazilian citrus industry is orange. Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of juice of this fruit in the world. The 2017/18 crop is estimated in 364.5 million boxes of 40.8kg, according to the Citrus Defense Fund (Fundecitrus).

According to Fernanda Geraldini, a researcher in the citrus market at the Center for Advanced Studies on Applied Economics (Cepea), linked to São Paulo University (USP), the current harvest is expected to exceed the previous in 50%, which was the lowest in nearly 30 years due to climatic conditions.

Fundecitrus estimates that there will be 191 million orange trees in production in Brazil in 402.000 hectares. Most of the orange juice production is located in São Paulo, totaling almost 80% of the total. Other important producing countries are the United States, China, Mexico and Spain.

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