Workers harvest oranges from in South Africa. ( Courtesy Summer Citrus from South Africa )

Buyers should see another strong South African citrus crop this summer, with navels arriving a little late, but with promotable volumes.

Miles Fraser-Jones, director of global business development for Tom Lange Cos. subsidiary Seven Seas’ New Jersey office, said he expects South African navels to arrive in the U.S. in week 24 (the week of June 11), which would be about a week later than normal.

“It’s a good crop on the trees,” he said in late April. “The drought in South Africa hasn’t affected this year’s crop, but no rain this winter will be a problem next season.”

Fraser-Jones said sizing may be off a little, peaking on 72s, then 64s and 88s.

Gray Vinson, South African citrus commodity manager for Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., said the company’s navel oranges should peak on 72s this summer.

Suhanra Conradie, CEO of Summer Citrus from South Africa, said she expects an 8% jump in volume this season compared to last season.

She said the season is progressing as expected.

“From middle April, initial volumes will start to be harvested, and arrivals will be towards end of May, with more substantial volume to arrive towards the 3rd week and end of June in Philadelphia, ending in September,” she said.

Last season, in late July, South African navel prices from the Philadelphia port of entry were $26-28 for 15-kilogram cartons 40-56s, and $22-24 for and $20-22 for 88s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By late August, prices had fallen to about $20 per carton.

Conradie said her group manages easy peelers, navel oranges, cara cara oranges and grapefruit.

U.S. demand for easy peel citrus is leading to more volume from South Africa.

“Easy peelers continue to trend highly with consumers, since they are great on-the-go snacks for families during the summer months,” Conradie said.

Fraser-Jones said Seven Seas will bring in its first clementines the last week of May, which is normal timing.

“I expect to see higher volume for late mandarins,” he said. “More orchards are coming into production.”

Alex Teague, chief operating officer of Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., also said his company is seeing easy peelers increase in market share.

“Easy peelers continue to grow in popularity, as well as an interest in pigmented citrus,” Teague said. “Grapefruit has very strong demand as does lemons, but all citrus continues to rise.”

According to a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service Global Agricultural Information Network December report on South African citrus, soft citrus (tangerines/mandarins/clementines) production will drop 8% this season from last because of drought.

However, exports to the U.S. have increased more than 10% each of the past four seasons, and should again this season.

California also had a rough weather season, but it turned out to be a strong one, Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual said in mid-April.

Fraser-Jones said with California wrapping up its season in late April, the transition to South Africa should fit well.

Teague said his product will also follow the California season with Western/Northern Cape citrus programs’ fruit arriving late May.

“Quality is good, sizing continues to be variable,” he said. “Volumes are good particularly on lemons.”

Vinson also said South African clementines should arrive just as California is finishing, and navels should see a two- or three-week gap from when California navels end and South Africa gets into the market.

Conradie said the drought in South Africa’s Western Cape remains a concern but technology, innovation and best practices ensure citrus growers will have a prosperous season.

“Summer Citrus from South Africa provides an opportunity for people in the U.S. to have the best quality citrus during the months when the U.S. is not harvesting,” she said.

 
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