Volumes of exported South African citrus exports have risen from 2012 levels but annual congestion at the growers’ favourite port at Durban is proving a perennial obstacle to shipping.
The year’s packing and shipping season is at its halfway point but good weather and more acreage devoted to citrus cultivation have seen volumes of the five main citrus products increase to 71.4 million 15kg cartons.
Last year at this time, 65.6m cartons had been packed. Of these, 61.2m cartons have already been shipped to overseas markets, compared to 57.4m cartons exported by early August 2012. The Citrus Growers Association (CGA), which focuses on marketing South African citrus in overseas countries, predicts 105m cartons of citrus product will eventually be exported in 2013, compared to 103m cartons in 2012.
Valencia oranges are South Africa’s most popular citrus variety overseas. However, the 45.7m cartons expected to be shipped this year will be 2m cartons fewer than in 2012. Grapefruit is doing better, and will see 17.8m cartons exported, up from 2012’s total of 13m.
Of South Africa’s other citrus varieties, lemons will fill 10.1m cartons, about the same as 2012’s 10.5m cartons. A total of 8.2m cartons of soft citrus will be packed; up from 7.6m cartons last year.
Navel orange production will be down to 23.2m from 2012’s 24.6m.
Last month officials from CGA and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) met to discuss boosting citrus sales in Brics countries, particularly in the Eastern markets of China, India and Russia.
Access to the China market has been hobbled by requirements that citrus undergo a costly cold and time-consuming sterilisation process. India’s high tax on imported fruit is proving an obstacle to accessing that large Asian market. A working group of DAFF officials and fruit industry representatives will be assembled to consider these matters.
Strict regulations to block citrus with citrus black spot disease are in place in the EU, one of South Africa’s prime citrus markets.
The black spots that appear on the fruit’s rind do not affect interior fruit quality or pose a risk to consumers.
However, EU buyers find infected citrus unappealing. Citrus grown in the Western Cape is free of the disease, but all Southern African citrus is subject to stringent EU inspection protocols that may threaten volumes into this traditionally lucrative market.
As usual at this time of year, the transport of citrus to overseas markets faces bottlenecks. The CGA has urged growers in northern Mpumalanga province to utilise Maputo’s port.
However, Durban remains the overwhelming favourite as the point of egress for South African citrus.
The result is a repeat each July and August of congestion that sees too much citrus arriving at the same time in Durban. Cold storage facilities are overwhelmed, and shipments are delayed up to a week as outgoing vessels cannot cope with the capacity.
In a memo issued last week, CGA advised citrus shippers: “At present the cold stores’ ability to receive railings efficiently is constrained on three levels, (firstly) containers arrive in numbers at the facilities and this causes congestion at the entrance areas.”
High levels of container packing are compromising effective operations to stow fruit into the chambers and thus free space at inbound train car railings. Finally, the necessary four-day protocol to containerise and ship citrus is being breached by the need to offload incoming trucks, causing a bottleneck for DAFF inspections.
About 60 000 permanent workers are employed by South Africa’s citrus industry.
During the current seasonal harvesting, up to 100 000 temporary jobs are filled, offering employment for unskilled workers in rural areas where citrus groves are located.