News and insight for North America's fresh produce buyers
Fred Meintjes

BY FRED MEINTJES

Wednesday 21st May 2008, 18:00 Central Time

Slow start for RSA citrus to the US

High prices in the UK and Russia are reportedly drawing volumes away from the North American market

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The first shipments of this season's South African citrus crop will begin to trickle into the US from next week, with all evidence suggesting that significant volumes will only start arriving late in June. Industry sources have said that there may well be a shortage of early-season imported citrus in the US until higher volumes arrive during July.

The shortage is the result of high prices in the UK and Russia in particular, which are drawing early volumes away from the US market. This, coupled with the fact that the season in South Africa's Western Cape region is slightly later than expected, means that the first conventional vessel of the year will only unload in Philadelphia during the first week of July.

Prior to this all shipments will be in relatively small volumes in containers that will be discharged in Newark and then transported to Philadelphia. The largest overall shipment of containers is expected to arrive in Newark during the last week of June – however, due to the shipment delay the fruit is expected to arrive in Philadelphia at the same time as that from the first conventional vessel.

Reports are also circulating that Chilean exporters are currently favouring the stronger west and Eastern European markets. This could lead to early-season shortages in the US, a stark contrast to last year when the early season was strongly supplied by South African and Chilean citrus exports.

Logistics coordinators in South Africa have forecast that between 120-150 pallets of Clementines will have arrived in the US from South Africa before week 25, which would amount to substantially less than the 3,012 pallets of Clementines and Navels which were landed by week 25 in 2007.

All shipments of citrus from South Africa to the US are subject to a 24-day cold sterilisation programme either on board the conventional vessel or in the container. Prior to this the fruit is subjected to a rigorous USDA inspection before it can be loaded.
"Coupled with delays in clearance at the other end, it makes the whole process extremely difficult. No wonder growers and exporters will access easier options elsewhere when the opportunities arise, as is the case with the strong market in Europe," one exporter told Fruitnet.

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