CITRUSDAL, South Africa — Members of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum don’t consider their job done after cartons of citrus are loaded on trucks and sent on their way to the port in Cape Town.

Three to four weeks later, when the vessels loaded with South African clementines, navels and midknights arrive at the Port of Philadelphia, at least one member of the producer’s forum will be there to ensure the fruit arrives in good condition.

“This program is very important to the South African growers, and we have a grower representative present in the USA for the duration of the season,” said Piet Smit, who is the chief executive officer of the growers’ group.

Smit is in Philadelphia for the first shift, when the Asian Lily is scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia on June 23, loaded with 1,672 pallets of clementines and 1,401 pallets of navels.

South Africa citrus exporters follow shipments through supply chain
                                                            Chris Koger

Employees at Goede Hoop Citrus Ltd., Citrusdal, South Africa, pack clementines for Seald Sweet International Inc. on May 28. Mouton Citrus Pty. Ltd., Citrusdal, grows exclusively for Seald Sweet, which has an equal partnership in Mouton Citrus, an alliance that is unique in South Africa’s Western Cape production area.

Smit said the follow-through shows the South African citrus industry’s commitment to the U.S. market.

“It boosts the confidence of exporters as well, because they have a knowledgeable person at hand to assist in the flow of information, to help when problems arise, and a face to put to the fruit from South Africa,” he said.

With Wal-Mart and Costco as the biggest customers of South African citrus in the U.S., grower-shippers adhere to phytosanitary protocols that include pest management in the groves, inspections at the port in Cape Town, and a 24-day cold treatment at 31 degrees fahrenheit.

Gerrit van der Merwe, chairman of the citrus group and owner of A.L.G. Estates, the largest family owned grower-shipper in the Western Cape, is also making the trip to Philadelphia this season.

He’ll be in Newark, N.J., where 40-foot containers are unloaded (all bulk reefer loads go to Philadelphia). Van der Merwe said containers have been problematic — each container, with 20 pallets of fruit, needs its own paperwork, unlike a bulk reefer vessel, which needs only one document — so exporters are moving away from container shipments.

The exporters also meet with importers and marketers to ensure the fruit is moving at a profitable level, check on repacking operations in the area and oversee the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspection on arrival.

“We make sure the right message is coming back (to the exporters),” van der Merwe said.

South Africa citrus exporters follow shipments through supply chain
                                   Chris Koger

Piet Smit, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, Citrusdal, South Africa, holds a roll of tape used to mark pallets of citrus approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors. The image on the wall behind Smit tracks how many pallets and containers of fruit are loaded on ships at the Port of Cape Town.

Market understanding

The forerunner of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, the South African USA

Citrus Alliance, formed in 2002 following two years of devastating grower losses as exporters competed for space on U.S. grocery store shelves, van der Merwe said.

“We had two years of huge losses, so the growers got together and decided to take responsibility for this,” he said about the export program.

The exporters’ main failing, Smit said, was using a production-driven model, instead of letting demand guide shipments to the U.S.

“The growers did not understand the USA  market or the market requirements,” he said. “Communication and the flow of information amongst all the role players are crucial, and it is now possible to do that with the structures of the (citrus producers forum) and the way we operate and manage the USA program.”

Smit has been the chief executive officer of the forum since it was established four years ago, but the group has hired its first full-time manager. Joretha Geldenhuys.
News Editor Chris Koger visited South Africa’s citrus production areas courtesy the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum in late May.