The secrets of a family that produces organic lemons in Tucumán

21 Mar 2021

With the concept of adding value and differentiation, the Sigstad developed their own brand and produce derivatives for the industry.

Juan Sigstad’s farm is in La Cocha, south of Tucumán. In molisol soils of the Pedemonte of the province, in 320 hectares it grows crops of lemon (80% of the surface), orange (10%) and mandarin (10%). 60% of that surface receives pressurized irrigation, by drip or micro-sprinklers, when taking water from the San Ignacio river reservoir, which is born in Catamarca. Sigstad also ventured into the cultivation of conventional and organic sugar cane, and the production of avocados.

So far there would not be much difference with a good producer in the region. But this restless businessman adds value to primary production with two tools: he prepares and packs the fresh fruit and sells it under his own brand, guaranteeing the organic condition of the product.

Sigstad emphasizes that humanity has been rapidly incorporating the consumption of organic food. “There is a significant demand and more and more people are looking for products with less environmental impact during production and less pollution on human health,” he highlights and mentions as an example that in the northern hemisphere several supermarket chains have already installed shelves of products organic.

Branded organic citrus

In 2008, after producing citrus with conventional handling for many years, Sigstad, with his wife, Claudia Mercedes Jalil, and their daughters, Carolina, Sofía and Virginia, decided to take a turn and start offering a product without chemicals, because he saw that the demand was oriented to food with minimal or no residue load. It also started the conditioning of the fruit produced, to have commercial autonomy, get closer to the consumer and avoid the price fluctuations generated by the commercial chain throughout the year.

In the case of lemon, in Tucumán, on average, 30% of the production goes to fresh fruit and 70% to industrialization. Normally, on a farm only one third is harvested without damage and can be offered for sale as is for human consumption; the remaining two-thirds generally have some damage caused by a pest or during harvest or transport, and are oriented to the production of juices, oils and other industrial products.

Juan sells the fresh fruit as an organic product under his brand mainly to the domestic market and a minor part exports it to Canada. “Shipments abroad do not increase because there is a lack of regulation of regulations to enter the United States and Europe, due to the limited interest of the authorities in this type of special productions,” Sigstad complains. Internally, Biotuc products can be seen on the shelves of a leading hypermarket and are also purchased by Tallo Verde, an Open Door orchard that delivers certified organic products to the door. The fruit is packed in its packing plant, which also provides services to third parties.

The rest of the fruit is sold to a local industry with which Sigstad has a purchasing agreement, which then produces and markets the final product, such as juice or essential oil. The lemon industry is the second most important in Tucumán after the sugar industry. One liter of concentrated juice requires 17 kilos of fresh fruit to manufacture. One liter of essential oil requires 200 kilos.

“With the sale of an organic product we achieve more stability in prices throughout the year, since this lemon is not a commodity; It is a specialty, something different, and the consumers of these products – people or institutions – do not pay attention to the price; they want healthy food and they pay for it. Conventional lemon, on the other hand, suffers sharp price drops from May to August and only appreciates in October-November ”, the businessman differs.

“The premium for the organic condition can be from 20 to 60%, depending on the moment, because it depends on the game of supply and demand”, explains Sigstad. And he adds: “in Argentina, the organic citrus market is developing gradually, it is still a small market, because it is a country where purchasing power is low.”

To ensure organic condition, Sigstad does not use chemical insecticides or fungicides on fruit trees. To control insect pests – such as mealybugs, thrips and aphids – it uses commercial biological products based on Bacillus thuringiensis and Bauveria sp. Bacillus subtilis and Trichoderma sp. Are used as biological fungicides. You are also allowed to use copper as a fungicide. The basis of all soil management is with Efficient Microorganisms, a technology developed by Teruo Higa, in Okinawa, in the 1980s.

On the Sigstad farm, the Global Gap standards, Good Agricultural Practices, accepted by all supermarkets in the world, and NOP and AR / EU are applied to ensure organic condition. In packaging, the established standards are Haccp, NOP, NOP-Canada and AR-EU.

One issue to consider is the yields of organic citrus crops. By not using protective agrochemicals, theoretically they would have a lower expectation of productivity. However, this fact must be confronted with lower production costs, a weighty factor in years of low prices.

For example, last season, the production cost of a conventional lemon crop in Tucumán was US $ 3,200 / ha applying 200 millimeters of irrigation. The organic one required much less, according to Sigstad: 1200U $ S / ha. In the same campaign, with a yield of 70t / ha of lemon and a price of 45-50U $ S / t paid by the industry, a conventional producer lost 100U $ S / ha. The organic, on the other hand, sold its fresh fruit at 100U $ S / t and obtained a positive margin.

Organic sugar, in sight

Sugarcane cultivation is carried out on around 360,000 hectares in the NOA and is developed by 8000 producers, generally small ones. Twenty mills industrialize it and produce 2 to 2.5 million tons of sugar. Domestic consumption absorbs 1.6-1.7 million tons and the rest is exported in a complex market. Bioethanol production is 500,000 cubic meters per year. Sugarcane generates 54,000 direct jobs and 140,000 indirect ones.

Juan Sigstad participates in this activity by cultivating 220 hectares of conventional sugarcane and the same amount of organic sugarcane. “The difference between one and the other is basically nutritional: chemical fertilizers are used for the conventional one and for the organic one, applications are made with Efficient Microorganisms and Azospirillum, a genus of plant growth-promoting bacteria”, he distinguishes. Compost made from vinasse (by-product of alcohol production) and cachaça (by-product of sugar production) are also used.

There are also differences in weed control: herbicides are applied in conventional cane and mechanical control is carried out in organic cane. Regarding insect control, the main adversity is the cane borer, but its control is not profitable. On the other hand, in organic crops of many years, with nutritional balance and healthy soil, there is a strengthening of the tissues that make it easier to control the attacks of pests. Much of this behavior came from the hand of changes in the management of the crop: years ago the stubble was harvested and immediately burned, which also burned the life of the soil. Stronger crops are now achieved by maintaining soil activity without disturbances.

The cane produced by Sigstad – conventional and organic – is destined for Arcor. The second is certified with international standards that will allow the industrial company to offer organic sugar soon.

In the organic sugarcane produced by this entrepreneur, there are no yield differences with respect to the average for Tucumán (60t / ha). On the other hand, the organic condition gives price stability and attenuates the fluctuation of value throughout the year suffered by the sugar commodity.

Lemon x-ray

  • According to data from Ferdercitrus, from 2009 to 2017, lemon production averaged 1,447,000 tons per year in Argentina, with a minimum of 950,000 tons in 2014 and a maximum of 1,750,000 in 2011

  • The main producing province is Tucumán, with 1,300,000 tons. They are followed by Salta (240,000), Corrientes (60,000) and Jujuy (47,000). In Argentina, the entire lemon chain employs 44,000 people

  • The per capita consumption of fresh lemons in Argentina is approximately 3 kilos per inhabitant per year. Lemons that go to industry produce essential oil that is used as a flavoring for non-alcoholic beverages and as a flavoring agent in the cosmetic industry.

  • Another by-product is the concentrated juice, which is used to flavor meats and salads or for the production of carbonated and alcoholic beverages, flavored waters, sweets and ice cream.

  • Pectin is also obtained from the dehydrated lemon peel, which is a binder used in the food and pharmaceutical industry that, after various industrial processes, is sold in powder form.

Source: La Nacion

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