Delays expected for Australian citrus crops in 2017

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Delays expected for Australian citrus crops in 2017

An industry body head says the Australian citrus season is running slower and later than normal this year, largely due to a mild spring in 2016. 

Citrus Australia CEO Judith Damiani said the crop forecast was yet to be finalized, but on the back of record exports in 2016 overall production volume was set to rise.

Total exports grew 7% year-on-year in 2016 to reach 220,000 metric tons (MT), including 166,000MT of oranges and 49,000MT of soft citrus.

Damiani explained it was "no surprise" the crop was a couple of weeks behind schedule this year.

"Everything’s a bit late and slow this year, so we’re just trying to see how things are sizing up at this stage," she told Fresh Fruit Portal.

"The lateness is no surprise as most crops in Australia at the moment are very late - all the wine and table grapes are between two and four weeks later than usual in southern Australia.

"Last spring was a little bit mild and the flowering period was quite extended. So fruit has been setting from the beginning right through the end. Hopefully it’s only a couple of weeks late - but four weeks would be quite significant."

She added temperatures in the southern growing regions were currently above average for the autumn, which boded well for citrus as the fruit would keep growing and sizing.

"The general indications for the Australian citrus crop are that it is fairly similar to last year, though we think volumes will be up. Sizing is still a little bit behind where it was last year, and so we're hoping for a bit more warm weather," Damiani said.

Despite the warm spring, summer and autumn in southern Australia, Damiani highlighted water storage levels were good.

Water availability has been somewhat low up in the state of Queensland, which has been receiving hot and dry weather recently. However, Damiani said weather factors had led to low disease pressure and fruit looked promising.

Lemon harvests are already underway in Queensland, which are set to be followed by the domestic market-focused Imperial mandarins in the next couple of weeks. The first Murcotts from the region are expected to be harvested around July.  

In southern Australia, where the majority of orange production is based, Damiani said it seemed the harvesting of the early Navels would kick off in mid to late-May, with exports starting in June.

Industry 'upbeat' about future

Up to 60-70% of Australia's Navel crop is typically exported, depending on sizing and quality, and Damiani expected the figure to be at the higher end this year due to strong demand across Asia.

"Mainland China became our biggest market for Navel oranges in 2017 [overtaking Hong Kong]," she said.

"Even last year we just could not supply the market. Demand was very strong, and it was common for growers to just not have enough fruit. So we're hoping the crop will be up this year so there will be more returns to the industry."

A lower proportion of the country's soft citrus is exported due to the strong domestic demand, though Damiani noted high volumes were shipped to Thailand and China.

The U.S. has been a declining market for Australian citrus shippers over recent years due to increased competition with Chile, which is closer to the market and has lower production costs. Damiani said the U.S. now lagged behind other countries like China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

However, she said Australia's free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea had led to increasingly strong performances in those countries, which would only continue to improve as tariffs were incrementally lowered.

"That is driving our products' competitiveness in those markets. Australia's such a high-cost anything we can do to reduce our costs to market is really fantastic for our agricultural industries in general," she said.

"As long as dollar stays where it is, this is going to lead to continued demand for some of those Asian markets."

She added it was not just Northeast Asian economies in Asia where the citrus industry was seeing growth, but a host of other markets too.

"We're seeing growth in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines - so there's plenty of room into the future for increased demand for our product," she said.

"It's showing up in our industry, which is very upbeat at the moment. I can see there's lots of investment back on the farms - new plantings, new equipment purchases and there are a lot of new investors in our industry, so these are very exciting times."



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