(May 16) Record citrus exports from Australia are possible this year, said an official from the country's exclusive U.S. import partner.

Rain – and projections for more moisture in coming months – could ease the effects of a drought that many Down Under are calling the worst in a generation, one that could have a huge effect on next year’s citrus crops.

The Australian import season is projected to kick off on schedule, about June 27, said Stu Monaghan, Australia citrus manager for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., the exclusive marketer of Australian citrus in the U.S.

Monaghan projected big sizing, exceptionally clean fruit and higher packouts this year.

“Quality is expected to be outstanding,” he said. “The sizing bodes well for our market, which likes bigger sizes.”

And with the higher packouts, Australian citrus exports to the U.S. could set a record this year, Monaghan said. A projected 1.7 million boxes is up from 1.45 million last year and 1.65 million two years ago – the previous record.

Monaghan also said some rain already fallen in Australia’s growing regions and mountain lake storage areas, and growers he talked to recently expected more soon. Regardless of how much rain Australia gets this year, there has been and will continue to be plenty of irrigation water for the 2007 crop, Monaghan said.

Without significant rains this year, Australia's agricultural sector could face a water crisis in 2008. The Australian prime minister, John Howard, said in a statement April 19 that, given the country's current drought, it was unlikely water would be available for irrigation in the country's Murray-Darling Basin from August 2007 to May 2008.