Smaller sizes of mandarins are under pressure globally on both import and export markets, as good growing conditions early in the season have lead to an abundance of these sizes in production countries such as South Africa.
The outside influence of transport issues and labour shortages continue to hamper the production of mandarins as they do other fruits, particularly in Australia, which has not opened its borders to those foreign workers who usually harvest the fruit, meaning part of the yield has been left unharvested in this country.
“The market for overseas mandarins started well with the Satsumas from Peru and South Africa. Because there are not too many large sizes on the market, the market remained reasonably stable.
”However, the small sizes have come under more pressure. Varieties such as Clementines, Nules and Nova have also arrived on the market”, says a Dutch importer.
According to the importer, despite the container shortage on the market, the delays have so far remained within reasonable limits.
When asked whether these new markets will lead to pressure on the European markets, the importer replies:
“One does not want to be too dependent on certain markets and always wants to find the balance in them. The increased planting of late mandarins and lemons means that a good spread of sales is needed. At the same time, I expect that Europe will always remain an important market for South Africa, but they will continue to develop towards other markets.”
The mandarin market faces a difficult period during the months of May, June, July and August. It is a product that is still traditionally associated with autumn.
At the moment, people are concentrating on summer fruits and have been eating mandarins since October. Demand will pick up again when the Nardocot mandarins from South Africa come on the market at the end of August/beginning of September.
The Spanish mandarin campaign has finished much earlier this year. Although the quality was high this year, the Tango, Nadorcott and Orri mandarin productions have been lower than expected and prices at origin soared due to speculation.
This has not been in line with the market, where the demand and prices have been normal and have failed to compensate for this year’s extra costs. Almost all mandarins were already harvested by the end of April.
Small productions remained stored in chambers for one more month to meet some programs with supermarket chains paving the way for the mandarins from the southern hemisphere. The demand for South African and Peruvian mandarins during the summer keeps growing in Spain, especially from July on, with the first Clemenvillas.
The first Spanish satsumas will come in September, followed by the first clementines. The cultivation of early mandarins and clementines seems to decrease year by year as supermarkets prefer the Tangos and Nadorcotts from the Southern Hemisphere.
In mid-June, while other citrus varieties are still in the fruit developing stage, Satsuma mandarins from Chongzuo, Guangxi have begun to be harvested and marketed, marking the start of the citrus sales season.
A small volume of early and extra-early citrus trickles onto the market in mid-to-late June each year, while early products from Hunan, Yunnan, and other production areas are not available until mid-July.
The harvest season this year is nearly a week earlier than last year, as traders wanted to take advantage of the Dragon Boat Festival. The original plan was to start harvesting the fruit ten days later. At this stage, the taste of early mandarins is still quite tart and the majority of the fruit is in the size range of 50-55mm, so only the more ripe fruit is picked.
Mandarins from Yunnan become available in small volumes two weeks after Satsuma mandarins from Chongzuo become available. After another two weeks, early mandarins from Hunan, Hubei, and other parts of Guangxi begin to trickle into the market.
This year, the extra-early mandarins start from 55mm, and are marketed at 3.5 yuan per half a kilo; the early products start from 60mm and are marketed at 3.0 yuan per half a kilo. It is predicted that the price of early mandarins will pick up in July.
Supplies of mandarins in North America are currently undergoing the transition between the domestic crop and imported product.
In California, mandarins supplies are just finishing up. “We’ve probably got another two to three weeks of harvest and we’ll have supply a little bit after that,” says a trader from California.
“We’re ending just a tad later than normal.” He notes that on volume, California does have slightly more volume than the 2020 crop. “There’s a little bit more fruit on the tree and we also had some acres coming into production,” he says. Early on in the season, smaller sizing on the California fruit was a concern.
This year, demand has been good on mandarins. As for pricing, it has been slightly lower this season. “I think it’s because we’ve got a little bit more acreage. At the same time we’re also seeing imports coming in.”
One thing California citrus growers are still dealing with are supply chain issues–everything from accessing containers, increases in transportation costs, short supplies and more.
“These are all driving our production costs higher. There’s a complete upheaval of the supply chain and you can put band aids on it but really, our entire supply chain is under stress,” continues the trader.
Meanwhile imported mandarins have already been coming in for 1.5 months, largely from Peru. “We expect a good quality season and an increase in the volume from Peru”, says a Miami based grower and importer of citrus, avocados and grapes.
Peru has already finished shipping early mandarins such as clementines and are now switching to W. Murcotts. The W. Murcotts should begin availability in the beginning of July and the grower adds that its Peruvian farms are increasingly moving to growing seedless W. Murcotts.
As for this year’s crop from Peru, it’s about 10 percent larger than last year and there’s good sizing for retail bags. “There are more trees coming into production. It’s not only Peru–it’s also Chile. South Africa is also coming with more production”, he says.
Given the greater volumes, movement could be an issue for imported supplies. That said, he anticipates pricing should be accessible enough to help boost consumer demand. “We can expect some price increases during the coming weeks, before the bigger volumes from Peru, Chile and South Africa hit the market in July.”
Looking ahead, managing the upcoming volume will also help with movement. Chile had a slow start, but is currently shipping clementines and it’s anticipated a large volume of the fruit will come in the next two to three weeks.
He notes that Chile generally is seeing larger volumes on smaller sizes. “So combine that with W. Murcotts from Peru plus volumes from South Africa, it’s going to give us a challenging season,” the grower and importer concludes.
The clementine and Nova seasons are ending, and sizes were smaller, a trend which is expected to apply to late mandarins too, particularly in the Western and Eastern Cape.
This means markets are already full with soft citrus of small sizes and growers need to stop packing sizes 4 and 5, notes an exporter in the Western Cape, who calls soft citrus markets “extremely saturated – and we haven’t even started with Nadorcotts yet.”
Tango late mandarin exports have started from Limpopo and the first Nadorcotts are also starting now; there have been operational difficulties at Durban harbour’s pier 2 due to a shortage of functioning straddle equipment, but the situation is improving.
“We’ve got a very heavy crop on the trees because of perfect weather conditions during flowering, but five or six weeks of rain at start of the year has not led to the expected larger fruit size but that has not happened because of long periods of overcast conditions which retarded growth”, says a Limpopo soft citrus grower. The substantial rain over that period has improved water security for citrus growers in the north of the country, but fruit size is smaller.
The drought and lack of rainfall in parts of the Eastern Cape has caused small sizing on soft citrus. In the Boland, Western Cape, a soft citrus grower says that they have not seen a trend to smaller fruit in their crop this season.
The number of markets for small soft citrus (counts 4 or 5 or 6) becomes limited. One option for small mandarins would be Bangladesh, notes a citrus exporter, but shipping to Bangladesh is still very challenging and delays in the turnaround of containers. The opening of the Philippines for South African citrus this season provides a potentially good market for soft citrus.
“I think what’s going to end up happening, Is that the total mandarin volume exported will be less than estimated but it will still be more than last year because of young orchards coming into production”, says a Limpopo citrus grower. For the moment it remains 29.5 million 15kg cartons of soft citrus (mandarins + clementines + Satsumas). Last year 23.6 million 15kg cartons of soft citrus were exported by South Africa.
“This is not an easy year, completely different to 2020. Prices are low and the Rand is strong,” remarks a citrus exporter. Competition from Peru and Chile in the US, Canada and the EU is noted.
Australian mandarin season is in full swing, with production in the southern states starting throughout May and June. However, there were some growing challenges for Queensland growers, who begin the citrus season in Australia, with not only problems with labour, meaning the fruit is left on the trees unharvested.
This is because of the Federal Government’s border closure because of COVID-19, not allowing foreign workers into Australia. Other growers have reported some issues with the colder weather and having to battle problems with frost etc.
At a wholesale level, the fruit that makes it to market is of high quality, according to a South Australian company, who said that they are looking forward to local fruit arriving because it is in high demand and often commands higher prices.
Overall mandarin production in Australia has been rising, in the year ending June 2020, 172,934 tonnes were produced, according to the figures. That is a 10 per cent jump in volume, and at the same time, there has been a 20 per cent jump in value to $357million.
Exports are also significantly up, to 77,316 tonnes, an increase of 30 per cent, with a 34 per cent jump in value to $187million. China is the major growing market for Australian mandarins, with nearly a third of all exports going there.