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Most Sundays River Valley producers will kick off their lemon harvest towards the end of the week

"Manna from heaven" delays Eastern Cape lemon harvest

A cut-off low pressure system has brought rain over a wide area of South Africa, bringing cool temperatures which are exactly what citrus farmers in the Eastern Cape need for colouring. Across the country talk is of mid-range sizing: 100, 113, 138.

In the Sundays River Valley, Easter weekend traditionally marks the commencement of the lemon harvest. A handful of producers had already started before the weekend while others have had some issues with colouring. It’s expected the Sundays River Valley harvest will be delayed by around a week, as the rain starts clearing up from tomorrow.

The rain over Kirkwood is “manna from heaven”, says Greg Jones, general manager of the Sundays River Valley Citrus Producer Forum, and fantastic for colouring as it brings night temperatures to below 12°C and washes accumulated salts from the soil but still, some producers admit they would’ve liked to get the big lemon harvest underway today.

The lemon harvest from the Sundays River Valley has been estimated at a neat 10 million 15kg equivalent cartons, making up 45% of South Africa’s total lemon harvest. (Two years ago the area’s lemon harvest came to 8.1 million cartons, last year it was 8.75 million cartons.)

In the neighbouring Gamtoos Valley, usually around two weeks later with its lemon harvest, the water situation has been critical and the 30mm+ they’ve had is very gratefully received, as well as the cool weather of the past two weeks which has been great for colouring.

Senwes lemon harvest
South Africa’s second largest lemon area, the Senwes region (Marble Hall and Groblersdal) is very busy with lemons. There, too, rain fell in varying amounts – reports range from 5mm to 60mm across the area – and even though harvesting is halted while orchards are wet, there are large lemon volumes waiting in packhouses, picked before Easter weekend, that will keep packhouses running in the meantime.

The estimate for the Senwes region currently stands at 4.6 million 15kg equivalent cartons, a figure that could be on the conservative side, FreshPlaza is told, especially if sizes are up.

Hoedspruit lemon volumes significantly down
In the early Hoedspruit/Letsitele areas, site of South Africa’s early lemon harvesting, volumes are significantly down, according to a number of sources, ranging from 25% to 40%. Hoedspruit’s initial lemon estimate is the third highest (1.47 million equivalent 15kg cartons) but it will probably be adjusted downwards which is, hazards one exporter, perhaps a blessing in disguise, given the ever-growing amount of lemons on the international market. It is thought that hot and dry conditions during fruit set caused much fruit abscission late last year.

The drop in volumes was a cause of frustration to marketers of early lemons who hoped to take advantage of stable markets in Russia and the Middle East before the swell of Argentinian lemons arrive. “When Argentina’s boats arrive, that party comes to an end,” quips a Hoedspruit producer.

In the Lowveld, where the lemon harvest has been going for a few weeks, rain has interrupted the harvest a number of times. Hail at the end of last year has been devastating to some Nelspruit citrus orchards, but it’s not expected to dent the area’s estimate of 750,000 15kg equivalent cartons.

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