Mango farming in Italy is becoming more widespread as hotter temperatures and the prospect of higher profit margins lead growing numbers of farmers to quit traditional crops in favour of exotic fruit.

As the harvest season begins, Italian mango crops covered 1,200 hectares this year, compared to 500 hectares in 2019 and just 10 hectares in 2004, data from farming lobby Coldiretti shows.

"Production of Italian-grown tropical fruit, driven by climate change, will profoundly modify consumer behaviour and the investment choices of agricultural firms in coming years," Coldiretti said in a statement.

While small tropical fruit farms have existed on the island of Sicily for decades, production is quickly expanding to other southern regions such as Puglia and Calabria.

Francesco Bilardi from Reggio Calabria began planting mango, avocado and passion fruit trees in 2020 alongside annona plants, which typically grow on the Strait of Messina.

"Citruses are our tradition, but once they were also an innovation" said Bilardi, who runs the farm with his two brothers. "For us, it is normal to maintain our traditions while adding some innovation."

While output of mango, banana and avocado are all on the rise, Italy's traditional and vastly larger grape harvest is threatened this year by bad weather and diseases, with wine production set to fall by 12%.

Andrea Passanisi, who has farmed avocado and mangos for 17 years on the slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna volcano, warned that extreme weather was also a threat to tropical fruit producers like himself.

"The real issue of climate change is ... unpredictable seasons," he said.

Coldiretti's economic coordinator Lorenzo Bazzana pointed out that exotic fruits were as vulnerable as grapes and citrus to increasingly frequent storms, torrential rains and long periods of drought.

"Tropical products are not the magic wand that allows farmers to produce risk-free," he said.

(Reporting by Alessandro Parodi; editing by Gavin Jones and Christina Fincher)