South African citrus growers expect their overall exports to the U.S. to remain steady this summer despite a dip in clementine shipments.

“Over the last few years, we have shipped about 40,000 tons of combined citrus products,” said Johan Mouton, chairman of the Citrusdal, South Africa-based Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, a consortium of roughly 300 South African growers who export citrus to the U.S.

“We expect it to be that for 2013 as well.”

Mouton declined to provide a commodity-by-commodity breakdown of the tonnage, but he added that the crop has good quality and sizing. He said weather has been favorable without extreme heat or cold.

“This bodes well for both color and flavor of the products,” Mouton said.

“The fruit appears to be larger in size for this season, a positive for the U.S. market, which prefers larges fruit.”

The increase in South Africa’s projected volume to the U.S. coincides with the rand losing more than 10% of its value against the dollar compared to last year.

South Africa does not rank among the world’s top 10 citrus producers, but it ranks second in the world in citrus exports.

“The weakening of the rand makes the U.S. market more attractive for growers because they can get a better return on their product,” said Kim Flores, marketing manager for Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet.

“However, it’s important that they are committed to the U.S. market and not chase the exchange rate to more short-term favorable markets. This would compromise the ability to build a strong market and programs in the U.S.”

The projected increase in overall volume shipped to U.S. markets comes despite an estimated dip in clementine shipments.

Marc Solomon, senior vice president for St. Laurent, Quebec-based Capespan North America, said South African clementine imports to the U.S. could be 10% to 20% less than a year ago because of a smaller crop and heavy demand in other markets.

Solomon said the shortfall had the potential to drive clementine pricing higher than last summer, but he added that the South African crop overlaps with an even larger Chilean deal.

“In general, clementine demand continues to grow, and we anticipate that this trend is here to stay,” he said.

Tom Cowan, South African sales manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., said he expects the drop in clementine shipments to be closer to 6% with about 395,000 cartons being imported.

Cowan said although volume will be down from the 422,000 cartons sent to the U.S. last year, it still should be above the country’s five-year average.

Harvest began in late April for clementines coming to the U.S. market. Sources said first arrivals are expected in late May or early June. Volume will peak in late June through July before tapering off in August.

The South African season typically winds down in late October or early November as the new California crop becomes available.

No U.S. Department of Agriculture pricing information on imported oranges or clementines was available as of early May.

On April 30, the agency reported that navel oranges from California were $16.75-17.80 for 7/10-bushel cartons of first grade 48-56s.