As a frontal storm approaches the Cape, citrus picking teams are hard at work to bring in as much fruit as possible before the heavy rain and storm winds start, expected by tomorrow evening.
The Olifants River Valley has seen an auspicious start to the citrus season and chilly mornings are helping colour along, with snow on the higher mountains expected during the coming storm.
“The season has kicked off really very well,” says Okkie Burger of the Quattro Citrus packhouse in Citrusdal, where Cape citrus is packed for AMFresh.
“If you have to find something positive brought about by Covid, then it could be the demand for oranges.”
“And in three to four weeks our Tangos kick in. The colour is looking really good, I’ve actually eaten some of that fruit, and the acids are coming down, so the harvest could start a week or ten days earlier for us.”
Okkie believes the new Citrus Genesis clementine Octubrina, of which they should pick the first commercial crop from their young orchards next year, will do very well in Citrusdal and is well-placed to take away Satsuma market share.
Better volumes and packouts on navels
“At this stage the indications from the orchards are that our orange crop is about 15% up on last year. Packouts are also looking better than last year because we’ve had much less wind."
"Hopefully, he says, "with the current exchange rate growers can pocket a bit more money this year to make up for the losses of previous years.”
Quattro packhouse in Citrusdal (during a previous season)
Premium fruit for Summer Citrus in USA
Most of the navels they currently pack (they’re busy with Washingtons; the Palmers and Bahianinhas are finished), are destined for the Summer Citrus programme in the United States into which they pack their premium fruit of all counts.
AMFresh also services UK and European retail programmes with oranges, where prices are also strong, with some smaller counts to the Middle East and larger counts to Canada.
The local market is still strong but could start dipping this week as volumes increase.
Their Midknights are traditionally harvested towards the middle of August.
Within the AMFresh group they don’t have late navel orchards in Citrusdal, but he notes that the rain this week in the area is welcomed to hopefully stabilise the dropping acid levels in late navel varieties like Cambria, Autumn Gold and Powell that are usually harvested by the beginning of August in the Valley.
Three weeks before start of packing to do Covid prep
They were fortunately not yet packing when the Covid-19 lockdown period started, which gave them three weeks just to prepare the packhouse and work out the movements of labour. During the usual induction session they gave packhouse staff two hours of training on Covid-19 and lockdown regulations in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa.
“In the packhouse there’s enough space between packers and between sorters, so we’ve been able to work with full teams. We created extra space in the canteen and outside where people can sit. If there’s a case in the Valley it will have a major impact to the entire Valley’s exports.”
The town of Citrusdal and its surrounding farms have been divided into a number of zones, each with its own days on which they’re allowed to visit town. The upshot of this (apart from lessening chances of transmission) is that it is now possible for teams to harvest on Saturdays.