Australia’s citrus harvest is expected to drag out a little bit longer this year due to a shortage of pickers and shipping delays.
- Sea freight interruptions along with coronavirus outbreaks in some cities and countries are giving citrus exporters extra challenges this season
- Mildura Fruit Company is doing what it can to manage the intake, packing, loading and shipping of citrus to overseas markets
- Despite the challenges the Mildura Fruit Company expects its growers will get reasonable returns this year
The Mildura Fruit Company operates Australia’s largest citrus packing sheds and between mid-April and mid-October this year it expects to pack 89,000 tonnes of citrus fruit to be sent off to market.
Oranges, mandarins and smaller volumes of tangelos, lemons and grapefruit will pass through the shed over the next few months.
Managing director Perry Hill said shipping to export markets had been severely disrupted this year due to a shortage of refrigerated containers and coronavirus outbreaks in different countries.
“Vessels are getting there one or two weeks late and then you get three arriving in three days, just creating havoc with our customers.”
China demand still strong
Mr Hill said Australian fruit was still moving through China well and demand from Japan had been strong for a number of years.
“China is still a good market,” he said.
“We were a little bit concerned leading into the season where that would sit but fruit is moving OK through that market.”
But Mr Hill said most of the south-east Asian markets had been struggling due to COVID-19.
“The wholesale markets in some of those places are in a bit of a mess but we believe it will pick up as we get into the late navels,” he said.
Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said there was no one market that was impervious to the interruptions to logistics and sea freight.
“However, we are seeing strong demand from countries such as Japan, whereas others have dropped off because there’s been a COVID outbreak in the country and they are in full lockdown,” he said.
Despite the delays, Mr Hill said the fruit was holding up well when it arrives at its destination.
“If you are picking the fruit at the right time and it’s good strong fruit, it will last the journey,” he said.
Cruise ship halt crushes lime and lemon sales
The huge disruptions to life from COVID-19 have affected citrus sales to hospitality markets.
Mr Hancock said it had been a tough run through COVID with bars and restaurants closing down on a regular basis.
He said the loss of the cruise ship industry had a high impact because it was a big part of the lime and lemon sales.
A shortage of seasonal workers to pick the crop is also causing some problems and there will be a later crop this year as more young plantings come into production.
Mr Hill said some of his growers had struggled to find pickers but most of them appeared to have caught up now.
He said the fruit was generally of good quality.
“It’s much cleaner than the previous couple of years,” Mr Hill said.
“The size profile is a little bit larger so we are having trouble with some of the larger second- and third-grade fruit, but I think the grower should generally have a reasonable year.”