CITRUSDAL, South Africa — Despite the weakening of the U.S. dollar, more competition from Chile and tight phytosanitary protocols, South African citrus exporters say they don't expect total shipments this summer to fall much below volumes sent to the U.S. last year.

South Africa's first full shipment of citrus is scheduled to arrive at the Port of Philadelphia on June 23 on the bulk reefer vessel Asian Lily. The ship left the Cape Town on May 31 loaded with 1,672 pallets of clementines, 1,401 pallets of navels. Another ship should arrive in early July.

The value of the South African rand to the U.S. dollar has strengthened from its March 9 high of 10.64 rands per dollar to a low of 7.97 rands per dollar on June 1.

"It does affect the decision, in order to maximize the income, but we will supply the U.S. market because of prior commitments and because it is a very important market to us," said Piet Smit, managing director of packinghouse Cedarpack Pty. Ltd. He is also chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, which represents about 350 growers and 32 packinghouses in South Africa's Western Cape and Northern Cape.

South African citrus set to arrive in late June
                                                                                Chris Koger

Maria Kraucunas (left), a pre-clearance mitigation specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, inspects citrus packed for Wal-Mart on May 29 at the Port of Cape Town, South Africa. The USDA inspects 75 cartons from each consignment arriving at the port before loading on ships destined for the U.S.

Exporters in those areas shipped 40,000 metric tons of citrus to the U.S. last summer, and the forum forecasts about 39,000 tons will arrive this year. The first containers arrived in Newark in late May and early June, but most of the citrus will arrive in bulk reefer vessels through mid-October.

An early season estimate calls for 1.5 million 5-pound equivalent cartons of clementines - a drop of 400,000 cartons from a February estimate - and 1.1 million cartons of late varieties and mandarin types.

Some packinghouses plan to send more fruit to the U.S. this season.

"This year, we'll probably send more, because of the quality of the fruit," said Gerrit van der Merwe, chairman of the producers' forum and owner of A.L.G. Estates, a Citrusdal packinghouse that will ship an estimated 210,000 cartons of clementines and oranges to the U.S. - about 35% of its total volume.

The biggest privately owned exporter to the U.S., A.L.G. Estates packs for Wal-Mart, Costco, Whole Foods and other retailers.

Peak clementine harvesting wrapped up in early June.

In a typical year, about 70% of the overall Western Cape citrus volume is exported, with a third of it headed to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is evaluating a request to approve the Orange River region, to the north of Citrusdal and west of the Northern Cape production area around Hartswater. The Orange River area specializes in grapefruit.

At Goede Hoop Citrus Ltd., Citrusdal - which packs 8% of the total citrus harvested in the country and 40% to 50% of the navels exported to the U.S. - the company's four packinghouses were running at 1/3 capacity in late May, but by mid-June, the lines should be running at full capacity.

Some of the company's clementines are being packed for Dandrea Produce, Buena, N.J., under the new Roxy label.

"We're not going to rush it with big volumes this first year," said Gabrie van Eeden, managing director of Goede Hoop, who declined to give a volume, but said the program will increase as the brand is developed in the U.S.

Goede Hoop also is introducing "Cape Cool," an exclusive label for Fisher Capespan's navels, this summer.

Chris Koger visited South Africa's citrus production areas courtesy of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum in late May.

(Note on correction: This article originally contained incorrect information about the number of pallets on the first ship arriving in the U.S.)