Turkish citrus is heading towards a risky season. Although demand is high and prices have risen along with it, the fear one Turkish exporter has is that the citrus fruits could become too expensive for the average consumers.
The citrus season in Turkey could prove very profitable if all things go well. However Mustafa Arslan, owner of Turkish fruit exporter MDA-Agricultural products, states that the costs have risen as well, and that if the season falls apart, there will be no way to cover for the financial losses: “The season for citrus is expected to be very different from the average ones. The coronavirus is the cause of this and it is expected the demand for citrus fruits containing vitamin C. The huge increase in demand will also have its effect on the price though, as they’ve increased a lot. General consumption of fruit and vegetables might be down overall, but the boosters for the immune systems are still most valuable. This means we can pack and export larger volumes than last season, despite the increase in price. Prices have also risen due to the added costs of harvesting, post-harvest treatments and packaging, all of which have become costlier of their own accord.”
The coronavirus will definitely leave a mark on the season, as cases in Europe are rising once again. Arslan fears borders or customers will close up once again: “With the current global situation in mind, we are afraid that if the coronavirus is allowed to spread widely once more, it will mean the closure of borders, restaurants and catering sectors. This will be disastrous to the consumption of citrus fruits, and with the current high costs in mind it means we’re heading towards a very risky season. In the beginning of the second week of September we’ll start to harvest and pack the Meyer variety lemons. At the end of that month the Enterdonato variety will also start, with earlier mandarin varieties starting in October, along with grapefruits and oranges. Therefore it’s expected we will be ready to pack and export all kind of citrus fruits by the middle of October.” Arslan explains.
The uncertainty of the season makes it all extra risky. As all costs from pre-harvest to logistics have increased, exporters have to invest more money without being sure they’ll be able to get their produce to the targeted markets. “This corona virus effect all the sectors badly. We have to work less but all costs increase a lot. Transport problems also affects our sector severely, because just transport costs alone increased by 30% compared to last years. People need fresh fruits and vegetables, but most of them try to buy only local products, rather than imported ones. This is not something exporters like to see, but local productions for all kinds of produce will be much more attractive in the upcoming years. As citrus is a seasonal product, we have to harvest and pack the citrus in a specific time period. If the market quiets down, we can’t delay the season, we have to start packing and selling. Whatever we don’t sell is lost money. With demand and prices high this season the stakes are high, as we do not want to have to sell the citrus locally. The profit on domestic sales isn’t great and it would be hard to fight any upcoming losses with only domestic sales. We’ll have to decrease our capacity by about 30 per cent if we want to keep this business healthy.”
The biggest concern for Arslan would be if prices increase by such an amount, that consumers and clients will simply lose interest, which would be devastating for the Turkish industry: “The biggest problem we’ll face this season are the higher prices. We have to try and keep them to a stable points for its continuity as well. If people lose interest and we’re not able to sell, how can we continue with this job? All citrus producing countries should not treat this current season, with the high demand for vitamin C, as an opportunity to increase the prices to their maximum. The fruits have to be affordable for the final consumers if we’re to sell our fruits at all.” Arslan says.
Thanks to warm weather, most citrus will have lower production this year, which probably is for the best. Except for the Meyer lemons, for which 15 to 20 per cent more production is expected. “Weather was extremely hot in May and June in the Adana and Mersin areas. This caused a lot of fruits to fall down early at the citrus gardens, in the flowering time. Some varieties for the lemons, mandarins and oranges will have significantly less production this season, specifically Enterdonato lemons and basically all varieties of mandarins and oranges. For the Meyer variety there doesn’t seem to be a problem and we even expect 15 to 20 percent more production than last year for the Meyer variety. This season we have our focus on the European market, as well as Russia and Ukraine, as the Balkan countries have not been so attractive the past few years. This is mostly due to competition between Turkish exporters. For MDA we expect to harvest like around 13.000 tons of citrus this season and 10.000 tones will be destined for export. We work with 15 to 20 per cent second class, which we select on the packing line and about a 1,000 tons will be sold to local supermarkets.” Arslan concludes.