First South African citrus shipments hit the U.S.
A container vessel brought 90 metric tons (MT) of Clementines and Navel oranges across the Atlantic, marking the start of the 15th season for South African summer citrus in the U.S.
In a press release, Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum (WCCPF) CEO Suhanra Conradie said epxectations for the fruit to fare particularly well this year had prompted increased shipment volumes.
"For a variety of reasons, many weather related, domestic citrus supplies in the U.S. are at more reduced levels than in seasons' past," she said.
"To meet this immediate demand, we expect to send nearly twice as much citrus at this time compared to initial shipments of 2013."
Fresh citrus will arrive every 10 days until October and the quantities of each fruit will be tweaked as the season progresses according to production capabilities and demand.
"Easy Peelers better known in the market as Clementines are in high demand in the U.S. and this initial shipment brings more of those than Navels," Conradie said.
"That will adjust later in the season when the volume of Navels increases. Star Ruby grapefruit and Cara Cara oranges begin arriving in late June."
This season will also include a pilot program reducing cold sterilization from 24 to 22 days in order to given consumers quicker access to the fruit.
The program came about from discussions between the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and South Africa's Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
The South African citrus will be shipped at -0.5°C (31°F) to avoid chemical fumigation on arrival. Scientific tests reportedly confirmed 22 days was sufficient to assure no pests could arrive with the fruit.
"The two agencies have been committed to our export program to the U.S. and work bilaterally as well as with the growers to assure compliance," Conradie said.
"A unique aspect to our program is the citrus is subject to pre-clearance in Cape Town before export to the U.S. where it then undergoes additional inspection on arrival.
"The reduction by two days means the fruit is available in the marketplace that much faster and will have a longer shelf life once in the market."
Conradie also said the two countries have been working together to achieve the correct sizing for U.S. consumer preferences.
"Smaller fruit yields well for the growing popularity of bagged fruit in the U.S. market. In all cases, fruit to the U.S. exceeds the internal quality requirements and is packed to assure it exceeds the strictest of fruit safety regulations," she said.
Citrus exports to the United States began in 1999 with 50MT and has grown significantly to the current 41,000MT annually.