Better sizes, tougher competition for Australia's U.S. citrus season
Last year a strong currency inhibited Australia's citrus exports to a degree in the U.S. with key marketer DNE World Fruit Sales wishing it could have received more. In 2012 however, crop and sizing issues mean Australia looks set to raise its navel orange shipments to the market by 50%, accompanied by substantial rises in other fruits such as cara caras, blood oranges and late mandarins. Combine this with a Californian overhang as well as strong Chilean and South African deals, and you have a very competitive situation. At www.freshfruitportal.com we discuss expectations for the season with Citrus Australia chair Tania Chapman and DNE's national sales manager Stu Monaghan.
Monaghan says two ships have arrived in the U.S. so far with Australian navels, fall glow tangerines, daisies and clementines, while expectations are high for a strong season in terms of volumes and taste.
"We’re finding an encouraging amount of retailers are willing to switch to Australia even though there is a significant amount of Californian fruit left to ship still," he says.
"Our estimations are for 850,000 navels, 30,000 cara caras, 30,000 blood oranges, 80,000 minneolas, 50,000 daisies and 30,000 late season mandarins."
He says cara caras estimates are up by 10,000 cartons, blood oranges are 15,000 cartons higher, the mandarin volume is set to triple, while the mainstay item of navel oranges will jump by 50%.
Chapman adds the maturity of the fruit has been two weeks earlier this year due to climatic conditions, but that does not mean the campaign will finish early.
"Because of where we’re sitting in terms of a really strong Aussie dollar, I think that growers and packing sheds will start to slow it down a bit and make it last a bit longer," she says.
"We need to spread it out a little bit because there’s been such a late overhang of California navels in all our marketplaces, so we need to wait for them to clear out - I believe our season will go with the normal finishing stage."
Monaghan says the Californian navels have lasted longer than was expected when DNE put its program together in the spring, while there should be more supply from Southern Hemisphere competitors.
"This year we understand there is going to be approximately 3.5 million cartons of navels arriving from Chile to compete against our increased shipments over last season, so we know when Chile hits their peak shipments, we expect there to be some downward price pressure.
"That’s when we’ve got to make sure we’re competitive and understand that we may even have South African fruit coming from the East Coast to compete against, adding to the price pressure.
"It is hard work with prices," adds Chapman. "That is why we’re slowing down our picking, but our fruit is fantastic size, with a really good spread of sizes, the fruit has been arriving in fantastic condition and there's been no outturn issues."
She highlights it is positive that South Africa are having a later start with smaller sizes, in contrast to Australia's situation, while the season should go well despite the higher competition from Chile.
"This year our numbers are down and our fruit size is up, so we only want to send fruit that will command a premium price, and this year we’ve got that because we’ve got that nice spread of good sizes that consumers want and are really easy to sell because they look fantastic and taste fantastic.
"Chile are putting some QA (quality assurance) programs in place but even where they’re setting their brix at before they’re allowed to export it, our fruit surpasses that each and every time anyway.
"Yes it is hard work with lower cost competitors such as Chile, but the marketplace already knows and loves Australian citrus - last year proved to us that the U.S. consumer is willing to pay for that premium fruit."
She adds that plantings of afourer mandarins and cara cara are only just starting to come into production.
"Over the next three or four years we will really see large numbers of afourers in the market. Cara caras are a bit the same, they’re really only starting to come into their own. Cara caras are a bit the same, they’re really only starting to come into their own."
Weather issues in Mildura
Chapman says the recent cold weather in the growing region of Mildura is unlikely to affect the quality of the crop.
"We did have some cold weather. It meant very vigilant growers being out all night doing frost protection.
"From what I’ve heard speaking to growers and other people in the industry, there hasn’t been any impact as yet because whilst the temperature did drop it didn’t drop for a very long period of time, and the main issue was only one night and not the three nights that was predicted.
"It has been cold but it certainly won’t have any impact on the quality of our fruit."
Related story: Aussies optimistic for mandarin shipment prospects