The 2023 final citrus export figures were lower than predicted as a result of on-going challenges, said Citrus Growers Association (CGA) chief executive Justin Chadwick. This season, Southern African citrus growers packed 165.1 million (15kg) cartons for delivery to global market.
Chadwick said while this is an increase of approximately 800 000 from the packed figures of last year, it was still 500 000 cartons lower than the forecast at the start of the season, and more importantly, substantially below the anticipated growth curve based on plantings that can see the industry potentially hitting 200 million cartons in the next four years.
‘We could have done better’
“This highlights that growers continued to face a number of challenges when it comes to getting their fruit to key markets. When it comes to each cultivar, this year 1.9 million less cartons of grapefruit were packed for export than in 2022,” he said.
“The 2023 total, 14.8 million, is considerably less than the 20.3 million packed two years ago in 2021, continuing the downward trajectory.”
Chadwick said mandarin exports continue to increase substantially with the past season seeing 37.9 million cartons being packed, an increase of 6.1 million year-on-year and 3.8 million more than estimated.
“This growth is largely due to increased orchard plantings as well as strong demand in the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom. Lemons also showed an increase, 900 000 more cartons were packed this past season, bringing the total to 35.6 million.
“However, this was 1.3 million cartons less than the pre-season estimate. Oranges have shown a decrease overall,” he explained.
Load shedding, floods wreaked havoc
According to Chadwick, this year, 24.7 million cartons of Navels were packed, which is 3.1 million less than last year and slightly below the estimate.
“Following an extremely challenging two years where only one in five growers made a profit, this year’s better market prices and reduced shipping costs offered a measure of relief to many growers.
“However, they continued to face several challenges which negatively impacted the amount of citrus they could export and their profits. These included sustained high levels of load shedding, which impacted their ability to irrigate, fertilise, pack and cool citrus,” he said.
Chadwick said floods in the Western Cape and the surge in farming inputs were the other factors that impacted the citrus season.
“Another significant challenge was the worsening logistics crisis, which has paralysed large segments of our country’s export economy.
“Congestion at ports and a dysfunctional freight rail network have cost farmers dearly and is, in effect, halting growth opportunities for the citrus industry.”
According to Chadwick, they were going to continue engaging with Transnet on the issues, but they are in full support of Transnet expediting public-private partnerships.
“Looking ahead to the 2024 season, stricter control measures or an EU market closure will surely devastate entire farming communities across South Africa.
“The CGA remains committed to working with government to overcome these serious threats to the sustainability and profitability of the industry and the 140 000 jobs it sustains,” he said.
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