Fruit farmers throughout South Africa are breathing a welcome sigh of relief this month as the citrus season winds down, thankful that the global Covid-19 pandemic did not hurt sales.
SAFE packed and exported just under 1.55 million cartons of citrus between February and September, slightly fewer cartons than last season. The impact of the pandemic was felt most not at the farms, but in dispatch and landing, according to Chantelle Thompson, logistics manager at SAFE.
“The problem was that there was a limit to the number of vessels that could berth at any given time, which meant slower loading and stack delays. Then we had some vessels that bypassed ports because of this.
“And given the curfew that was in place, especially in the early days of the pandemic, we also had to consider the load times because the staff at the various depots use public transport. They had to get home before the evening lockdown. But I am pleased to say that we made it.”
“Cooperation,” according to Dries Van Rooyen, SAFE’s general manager of farming operations, was the key to the season’s successes. “Everyone in the entire supply chain from harvesting to packing, transport and shipping, came together in the most heartening manner to make sure that things went as smoothly as possible.
“In the end, we came through without any major problems, on target with our pre-season estimates thanks to good crops of Valencias and Navels in particular. Lemon sales were disappointing early in the year, but even they picked up.”
With hardly time to breathe between crops, SAFE farmers are now hard at work preparing for table grape harvesting from mid-November.
“We have had a normal winter for the first time in years,” said Dries, “grapes have been ‘slow out of the blocks’, but temperatures are already beginning to rise, and I anticipate a good crop this year.”