Local wine farmers swap grapes for citrus- South Africa

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As the popularity of citrus exports spikes in South Africa, many local farmers are replacing their grape vines with lemon, mandarin or lime trees in an effort to cash in on the trend.

This year the country is expected to export a record-breaking 137-million boxes of citrus fruits, competing with leading countries around the world in the citrus trade.

 More than 100 countries will receive South Africa’s produce for the second year in a row, showing a continued trend of citrus popularity around the globe, despite the decrease in trade of Valencia oranges, which formed 40% of the export market last year.

This year has shown a large increase in the planting of lemons and mandarins, which has pushed up the expected crop export percentage when compared to last year. All exports will leave the country in May.

In 2018, exports yielded a total of almost R19-million in sales and made up 92% of the total income the local citrus industry made. Due to the success of this industry last year, farmers have planted a record area of citrus fields.

Robertson in the Western Cape, which is known for its wine, has seen a huge change-up in particular, with many farmers replacing their grape vines, which yield less than citrus trees, with large citrus plantations. The new trees are under protective netting to shield them from sun damage and so they can be more water efficient. Under normal conditions, citrus trees take roughly five years to bear fruits, but under nets and properly kept they can take just three years.

Spain has noticed the uptake in South African citrus exports and there has been buzz in the media with complaints that SA is encroaching on their season. Due to seasonal differences, there was usually a small overlap between South African and Spanish citrus exports – this has grown in recent years as South African exports have expanded.

South Africa’s exports to China have also been challenged after local farmers oversupplying the market with grapefruit last year caused a drop in prices.

As the popularity of citrus grows, South African farmers will need to learn from their experiences and work better in the market as there is room for growth in other citrus exports.