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South African citrus export volumes to jump in 2020
January 9, 2020, 11:21 am

South Africa is the world’s second largest exporter of citrus


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects South Africa’s fresh citrus exports to jump by 10 per cent in 2020 to 2.24 million tonnes. The revenue growth from citrus exports should be even higher, as growers shift production to high value lemons and soft citrus such as mandarins and away from oranges.

In 2018, the average export price for soft citrus was R13,498 ($952) per tonne, for lemons/limes it was R11,151 ($786) per tonne, while for oranges it was R8,600 ($606) per tonne according to the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA).

The USDA expects soft citrus exports to rise by 11.9 per cent to 330,000 tonnes, oranges to increase by 10.6 per cent to 1.25 million tonnes, lemons and limes to grow by 7.9 per cent to 370,000 tonnes and grapefruit exports to climb by 7.4 per cent to 290,000 tonnes.

The proviso to this of course is that South Africa has a normal rainfall this year and there is no recurrence of the port disruptions that took place last year.

South Africa’s share in the top six citrus exporting countries more than doubled from 6.6 per cent to 15.7 per cent between 2001 and 2017 and it is now the second largest exporter of citrus globally behind Spain. That growth was fuelled by an increase in land devoted to citrus and the USDA said that one of the reasons for the recent strong growth is that trees are now entering their prime fruit producing years. As an example, the land devoted to soft citrus has more than tripled from just under 6,000 hectares in 2012 to an expected 18,000 hectares in 2020.

Overall, USDA noted that a total of 81,603 hectares was planted to citrus in South
Africa in 2018, which was an 8 per cent increase from 74,902 hectares in 2017 and the USDA expected this growth trend to continue based on the significant investments and aggressive new plantings of soft citrus, lemons, and new varieties of oranges.

The Limpopo province is the largest citrus production area accounting for 43 per cent of the total area planted, followed by the Eastern Cape (26 per cent), Western Cape (18 per cent), Mpumalanga (8 per cent), KwaZulu-Natal (3 per cent), Northern Cape (1 per cent), North West (less than 1 per cent), and the Free State (less than 1 per cent).

The Western Cape and Eastern Cape have a cooler climate, which is better suited for the production of navel oranges, lemons, limes, and soft citrus, while the Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces have a warmer climate, which is better suited to the production of grapefruit and Valencia oranges.

Harvesting is from February to September, which helps smooth logistics and seasonal work opportunities, as deciduous fruits, tropical fruits and table grapes are harvested in the summer months of October to March.

Although the European Union remains the largest market for South African citrus exports, South Africa has diversified its export markets in recent years, in particular to its BRICS partners. Russia is now the third largest destination in grapefruits, oranges and soft citrus and fifth in lemons, while China is second in oranges and grapefruit.

Prior to 2019, South African citrus exports to China were only permitted on container shipping, but it then granted permission for South Africa to export citrus to China using break-bulk shipping. Around 85 per cent of South African exports to China are now through break-bulk shipping, as it is easier to maintain the temperature at the required level due to better airflow. In addition there are more break-bulk ships available, and there is less congestion at ports as break-bulk ships do not have to use quays with container cranes.

Helmo Preuss for The BRICS Post in Makhanda, South Africa

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