It’s getting towards the tail end of the South African citrus export season and at the harbours things are quieting down after a challenging season.
What made the season difficult at times, was the delay in the grapefruit season due to colour development, with led the grapefruit peak to coincide with that of navels, already an unusual situation, but further compounded by the strong growth in citrus from the northern regions as well as the doubling in exports to China (a market that requires 24 days at -0.6°C).
During weeks 21 and 25 and then again from weeks 28 and 32 off-loading was stopped for up to four days at a time due to a shortage of reefer plug points, leading to delays but no fruit losses are reported.
Photo courtesy of FPT
Currently, Durban Harbour (a harbour on the Indian Ocean, closest to the Far East) has a pre-cooling capacity of 38,000 pallet slots but by 2022 it will need 45,000 slots. The cold treatment capacity required by 2020 is 26,000 slots, compared to the current capacity of 13,000 slots.
In a recent newsletter, Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) CEO Justin Chadwick noted that there were plans for at least 12,000 additional pallet spaces of capacity in Durban ahead of next season, of which about 4,000 would be for cold treatment shipments.
This season at Durban the demand for reefer containers is 42,000 but expected to grow to 49,000 FEUs (Forty-foot Equivalent Units) over the next couple of years and an overall 25% increase in reefer container traffic. Nationally, 30,000 additional reefer containers will be needed by 2020 to meet the demand of 93,600 FEUs, half of which will be needed for citrus from the northern growing regions.
Apart from the necessity of increasing cold storage infrastructure with the help of private commercial investors, as well as possible investments from citrus export companies, the CGA is looking at other strategies, which could also include making more use of Mozambique’s port of Maputo.
Possible increased breakbulk for Chinese exports
The CGA is considering an increase in breakbulk or conventional vessels to handle the large volumes going to China, and since Japan is also a so-called special market requiring cold treatment, there is the possibility of co-loading citrus for Japan and China.
Increasing volume of citrus shipped to EU, UK and Russia by breakbulk
In order to offset the high demand for reefer containers, the CGA proposes to exporters of citrus to increase and maintain breakbulk volume shipped to offset the demand for up to 500 reefer containers per week. Already in 2018 there was a severe shortage of available containers in Durban which is an indication that going forward there will no doubt be a severe shortage in time to come.
Rail transport for non-cold treatment markets
Moreover, 8,000 more trucks will be needed on South African roads to carry citrus and it is critical that the neglected railways be increasingly used to supplement road freight. The Citrus Growers’ Association has already done much work in this regard, with rail sidings in Tzaneen and Bela-Bela (both Limpopo Province) actively in use, but this will have to be expanded to carry 10,000 FEUs for non-cold treatment markets, like Russia and the Middle East. City Deep, in southern Johannesburg (location of the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market), is well sited to receive citrus from across the northern areas by rail.
Another initiative to take the pressure off harbour facilities would be to pack containers at inland cold stores or at packhouses, something that between 5 and 10% of citrus exporters are already doing.
Fruit pallets in storage at Durban Harbour (Photo courtesy of FPT)
Growth of industry in numbers
Citrus transport in South Africa is broadly divided into the Eastern and Western Cape regions respectively, but logistics constraints affected citrus coming from the Northern corridor which services very substantial volumes as far north as Zimbabwe.
There is an increase of 10 million 15kg equivalent cartons over last year’s volumes, coming to 132 million cartons this season. This is estimated to rise to approximately 169 million 15kg cartons over the next three to five years, of which the bulk, 92.7 million cartons, will have to be transported via the Northern Corridor.
The peak for citrus from the north is expected to lengthen. The Citrus Growers’ Association has planned for an increase of 600,000 to 800,000 cartons weekly over the peak period, starting earlier (week 20) and ending later (week 35) as a result of the growth in early lemons and late mandarins, with a consequent earlier demand for reefer equipment.