Grapefruit biggest casualty of hail and drought

Last week the Citrus Marketing Forum (CMF) of Southern Africa met in Johannesburg to consider the growers’ estimate for expected Southern African citrus exports in 2016 and concluded that, despite the adverse effects of the drought and hail experienced in key producing areas, the industry was well positioned to meet its market demands. It is expected that a total of 111.2 million cartons (15kg) of citrus will be packed and passed for export from citrus producers in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland in 2016. This is a decrease of six percent on the 2015 export crop. "General trends to be expected across most varieties for the season include excellent eating quality, smaller than average sizing and superior external appearance – all due to the warm and dry climatic conditions experienced during the past summer," said a spokesperson. Grapefruit exports are expected to reach 12.4m cartons (15kg), down by twenty-three percent from 2015’s record export. Drought in the Letsitele and Onderberg areas and severe hail damage in Hoedspruit are the major factors behind the drop in volume, exacerbated by the fact that 2016 was to be an “off” year anyway in terms of the production cycle. Although fruit size distribution will favour the smaller counts, Grapefruit growers have indicated that they will continue to support initiatives which aim to respect the demands of each of their markets in terms of timing, volume and specification. "Whilst the drought that has gripped large parts of the country has had a significant impact on the citrus export crop, it is clear that farmers prioritised their high value varieties with the limited water they have had available," said the spokesperson. "Some uncertainty as to the onward impact of the drought on the 2017 crop still exists, but with the arrival of late rain in the Northern areas and further evidence that the El Niño cycle has been broken, the picture looks far more positive now than a few weeks ago." Against this backdrop, Southern African citrus growers are cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the 2016 season and their continued ability to supply citrus fruits of the highest quality to discerning markets around the globe.