As U.S. demand rises, easy peelers lead South African export growth

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Duty-free access to the U.S. market is one factor in rising production and exports of South African citrus, according to a new report. The rising popularity of easy-peeling mandarins and clementines is another. 

In a report on South African citrus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service 
said production and export of tangerines/mandarins, lemons and limes is expected to continue growing in 2018-19 and beyond based on the increase in area planted, new plantings coming into full production, and improved water management by growers.

The report said duty-free exports of citrus to the U.S under the African Growth Opportunity Act are expected to continue to grow at a strong clip.

While oranges are the biggest citrus type produced in South Africa and account for 58% of total citrus area planted, the report said there is recent growth in tangerine, mandarin, lemon and lime acreage.

Total citrus area planted in 2017-18 was 191,600 acres, up 3% from 185,000 acres in 2016-17.

South Africa shipped more than 45,000 metric tons of oranges to the U.S. in 2018, but the report said a gradual shift from oranges to mandarin/tangerine exports is expected over time.

South African farmers supplying the U.S. have been replacing orange orchards with mandarins and tangerines in response to higher demand and premiums, according to the report.

Rise of mandarins and tangerines
South African production of tangerines/mandarins (the report includes both varieties in a single category) is estimated to increase by 9% to 305,000 metric tons in 2018-19, up from 280,000 metric tons in 2017-18.

“There is a growing trend of farmers aggressively establishing new orchards under netting which has improved the water efficiency and the overall quality of soft citrus production in South Africa,” the report said. 

Tangerines/mandarin acreage is estimated to increase by 5% to 35,000 acres in 2018-19, following annual acreage gains for those varieties since 2011.

The report said exports of South African tangerines/mandarins will increase by 9% to 285,000 metric tons in 2018-19. The United Kingdom is the biggest export market, but shipments to the U.S. have grown by an average of 15% a year over the past four seasons, from 7,443 metric tons in 2013-14 to 13,695 metric tons 2017-18. 

“This growth trend is expected to continue based on the rising U.S. market preference for easy peelers,” the report said.