CITRUSDAL, South Africa âWhen it comes to South African orange exportersâ concerns about competition with Chile, the talk turns to clementines.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved clementine shipments from Chile to the U.S. in 2005. Within two seasons, South Africaâs exports had dropped from 13,800 metric tons to fewer than 5,000 metric tons, according to the USDAâs Foreign Agricultural Service.
| Chris Koger
South African oranges will compete with Chilean oranges for the first time in the U.S. this summer, following the U.S. Department of Agricultureâs approval of the Chilean fruit this summer. This box of South African navels, packed for Costco by A.L.G. Estates, Citrusdal, bears the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forumâs Summer Citrus logo.
âOur market just collapsed,â said Gerrit van der Merwe, owner of A.L.G. Estates, a Citrusdal grower-shipper.
âIt was a huge blow to us,â said Piet Smit, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum. âBut weâve started to build the market up again.â
The USDA approved imports of Chilean oranges and grapefruit this spring. At more than 33,600 metric tons in 2008, South African orange shipments to the U.S. dwarf the nationâs biggest competitor, Australia, which exported 21,500 tons to the U.S. in 2008.
Even with that much of the market, shippers in South Africa are wary about it eroding.
âThe environment has changed with the entrance of Chile,â van der Merwe said May 28 to a group of growers gathered at his house. âThey have the potential to take a big slice of the market.â
South African shippers canât compete with Chile on price, van der Merwe said, so they focus on providing top quality and service.
That, he said, should allow South African exporters to maintain accounts in the U.S.
âWhen a season starts, I know what my program is with Wal-Mart,â he said, which is about 55,000 cartons total this season.
Smit said exporters are seeking stronger partnerships with U.S. retailers to promote their clementines, navels and midknights.
By next season, South African shippers might have another citrus item to promote â grapefruit.
The USDAâs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which clears areas based on phytosanitary issues, is considering a request for the Orange River district (which borders Namibia), which specializes in grapefruit.
News Editor Chris Koger visited South Africaâs citrus production areas courtesy the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum in late May.