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Concerns expressed over premature end to Western Cape citrus export season

The citrus harvest will be about 10% less than estimated in the Western Cape this year. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

The citrus harvest will be about 10% less than estimated in the Western Cape this year. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published Sep 16, 2023


The Western Cape export season for citrus will end two weeks earlier than usual, experts and economists have predicted.

MEC for Agriculture in the Western Cape, Andricus van der Westhuizen, confirmed the news and said the timing of the harvesting season is determined by various factors, from when the fruits are formed from the blossoms, right through to the ripening process on the trees.

“I would therefore be reluctant to say that the wet winter season was the sole cause of this. The biggest challenges were not the high, overall rainfall figures during the winter, as most farmers ensure that their orchards have the necessary drainage for rain. What was challenging were the floods (as experienced in mid-June 2023), as well as repeated hailstorms, the latest of which occurred this week in the Citrusdal area. Citrus trees are normally irrigated during the summer months (when the fruit are formed) and load shedding also impacts negatively on the size of the harvest.

“The expectations are that the season will not only end somewhat earlier this year, but also that the harvest will be about 10% less than estimated. This puts farmers in a difficult position, as their income will be affected, while input costs continue to rise. The weak currency (rand) helps a bit for the fruit that can be exported. But hail-damaged fruit cannot be exported and these fruits fetch a significantly lower price when destined for juice factories.Overall a strange, challenging year for many of our citrus farmers in the Western Cape,” he said.

Senior economist Ulrich Joubert said this is bad news for South Africa, and indicates the immense pressure citrus farmers experience against the European market.

“Citrus exports are very important for South Africa. We need the revenue. Spain is currently the number one exporter of citrus in the world, and predictions show that this two-week premature citrus end will cost the economy 20% loss in comparison to the previous year’s revenue, due to logistical issues.

“I must, however, say that the citrus sector has done very well in maintaining competitive prices internationally while having to deal with load shedding and water restrictions,” he said.

Loftus Marais, who spoke on behalf of the Citrus Growers Association, held a different view, and suggested the citrus sector in the country was not in danger.

“The approximate date of the end of seasons vary from year to year because of a variety of factors playing a part of the whole annual production cycle. This year looks to be finishing about a week or two earlier than the average. There was only a short delay in exports from the Western Cape because of the floods there in June, but the growers and workers there caught up rather swiftly.

“The natural end of the season doesn’t affect the industry’s trajectory at all. Our plans for the future focus on increasing market access for our growers, keeping our world-class phytosanitary regime intact, and offering our members ways in which difficulties caused by load shedding and logistics issues (road, rail and ports) can be addressed,” he said.