The 2017 citrus export estimates aren’t that dissimilar to those of 2015, says the CEO of the Citrus Growers Association, Justin Chadwick. A total of 122,809,304 15kg-cartons are expected for export purposes, with some spectacular increases.
The Valencia estimate in the Hoedspruit region, for instance, will go up by 95%, to more than 5 800 000 cartons. “Last year the Hoedspruit area was badly affected by hail, so this year’s figures is a correction to last year’s poor harvest, and a bit extra,” explains Fanie Meyer, the CGA Hoedspruit representative. There are also young trees coming into production this season. Overall Valencia export figures are pegged at 19% higher than 2016 (50 million cartons versus 42 million cartons). Other regions seeing sizable jumps in their Valencia export figures are Swaziland (up by 90%), Zimbabwe (up by 39%) and Nelspruit (up by 28%).
The lemon harvest is similarly buoyant, with all regions reporting optimistic estimates, for instance a 94% increase in the Orange River region from a low base of about 89 000 cartons to almost 173 000 cartons, due to new orchards coming into production. In the Onderberg area of Mpumalanga there is a projected 47% increase. In the largest lemon production areas of the Sundays River Valley (Eastern Cape) and Senwes (Groblersdal and Marble Hall), increases of 16% and 29% respectively are expected, reflecting an expansion in lemon orchard acreage. Overall an 18% addition to South Africa’s lemon exports are expected (resulting in 17.5 million cartons), which, it is felt, will necessitate the opening of further export markets.
Soft citrus producers have an equally positive outlook, as their estimates are 16% higher (13 222 340 cartons) than the 12.1 million cartons of soft citrus exported last year. There will be an increase in specifically late mandarins, as many newcomers to the citrus industry are turning to late mandarins in response to the woes of the South African wine and fruit processing industry. Indeed, it is reckoned that there is currently a fivefold expansion in mandarin orchards taking place, with a doubling in volumes possible by 2023.
An estimate of 13.4 million cartons are forecast for grapefruit, a healthy increase of almost 2 million cartons. Of this, the vast majority are red grapefruit (12 million) and the balance white grapefruit. Zimbabwe’s grapefruit production is also up, but Swaziland’s is down.
The minor chord in an otherwise upbeat song is navels, specifically early navels. “We’re very worried,” Snyman Kritzinger of Grown4u “The Eastern Cape has some of the best navels in South Africa but we’re going to have a very difficult year. We’re expecting a dramatic drop in class 1 navels and navel prices can rise tremendously. We had a lot of wind during blossoming and fruit set and now we’re seeing much wind damage: fruit with open holes and blemishes. Excessive heat has also affected yields. Good product can be 30 to 35% less.” This concern is reflected in the estimates: for all navels (early, late and Cara Cara) the Sundays River Valley estimates a 20% drop in exports. Patensie expects a 7% drop, the Eastern Cape Midlands a 10% drop.
The decrease will be offset by export increases of 21% and 9% in, respectively, the Senwes region and the Western Cape. The Senwes region will then be the major navel producer in the country. A total of 26.3 million cartons of navels are expected, a mere 1% improvement on drought-afflicted 2016.
There are fewer and fewer early navel orchards in South Africa as growers turn to late navels, Midknights, lemons or late mandarins. “Navels traditionally don’t make money for farmers,” says Kritzinger.