Gerrit van der Merwe and his son Gerrit at the family's citrus operation, A.LG. Estastes, in Citrusdal, South Africa, in 2009, ( File photo )

Gerrit van der Merwe Sr., who was instrumental in setting up the collaborative structure South African citrus growers use in determining exports to the U.S., has died.

Van der Merwe, owner of A.L.G. Estates, a family-owned grower-shipper in Citrusdal, South Africa, died Dec. 19. According to a release from Summer Citrus from South Africa, which handles promotion of South African citrus in the U.S., van der Merwe advocated for growers to join together in the early days of South African exports to the U.S.

The group initially formed as the South African USA Citrus Alliance in 2002.

"We had two years of huge losses, so the growers got together and decided to take responsibility for this," he told The Packer in 2009, when the group was known as the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, the forerunner of Summer Citrus from South Africa. He was the group’s chairman at the time.

During the summer export season, the growers routinely meet in Citrusdal to discuss how much to export to the U.S. Exporters are also on hand when shipments arrive at the Port of Philadelphia, and van der Merwe made the trip on behalf of the industry.

“He soon became well-known in the U.S., and as business grew, so did a collaborative approach between growers and importers,” according to the Summer Citrus from South Africa release. “He was determined that serving the world’s demanding market required growers to work together – and he was right.”

The citrus group is saddened to lose a mentor and friend, Suhanra Conradie, CEO of Summer Citrus from South Africa, said in the release, but van der Merwe’s legacy will continue.

“We have gained a lot of momentum with Gerrit’s initiative for our collaborative approach and intend to keep it going,” Conradie said in the release.