Despite drought, South Africa in line for record citrus crop

Lemon overproduction from key exporting countries has led to ‘critical global situation’

Fresh Fruit Portal

During the last two decades, most lemon-producing and exporting countries increased their productive area and production volumes.

“The volume increased in Spain, Turkey, and especially in South Africa,” José Carbonell, President of the Argentine Citrus Association FEDERCITRUS, told “This led to a doubling of the hectares planted with lemons in the world in the last 20 years, which was not accompanied by a similar percentage of demand.”

This applies to fresh lemons and derived industrial products including juice, oil, and peel. The UK gets the majority of its fresh citrus, including lemons, from South Africa, Spain and Italy. Carbonell says all main producing countries increased their planted hectares by at least 20%.

“Argentina had a little more than 55,000 hectares of lemons, “says Carbonell. “Everything worked until 2019 when the crisis of overproduction vs. demand began to occur. It is a critical global situation for those countries that have integrated (industrialized) production.”

Reduction of hectares in Argentina

Carbonell estimates that in Argentina, around 10,000 hectares that used to be dedicated to lemon production have been “cleaned up” or dedicated to another crop.

“There is a decrease of around 20% of the area planted in northern Argentina,” Carbonell adds.

The main markets for Argentine lemons are the European Union and the United States, markets to which the volume of shipments has decreased in recent years mainly due to weather conditions.

“This year we have had all the rain we didn’t have last year, which, like all excesses, is not very good either, because we are going to pay for it in fruit quality and late blooms,” says Carbonell.

Last year, the production volume of lemons in Argentina dropped from the two million tons that had been maintained during previous years.

In terms of industrial lemon derivatives (oils, juice, and peel), Argentina continues to be the main world supplier.

Increased production this year

Both Spain and Turkey have increased their production this year. Likewise, Carbonell believes that production volume in Argentina will increase this year.

“I can’t say how much and I don’t think it will be a lot, but it is likely because of the amount of rain we received,” he says.

“We take great care of the quality and health of the fruit”

Carbonell says that the drop in exports of Argentine lemons derives mainly from fresh fruit to the European Union, the main market.

“This fall occurred, in part, by the exporters’ own decision to take extreme care of the quality and sanitation of the fruit that was sent. However, as a consequence, we had very good sanitary performance during 2023. Today in Europe they are worried about South Africa and Turkey, not Argentina,” adds Carbonell.

Due to all these sanitary measures taken by exporters, Argentina is today the country that exports lemons with the lowest amount of chemical residues in the world. The expert says that the Argentine industry expects that this competitive advantage will begin to pay off in the coming years.

Export volumes

Last year Argentina’s lemon exports fell to around 235,000 tons, of which 78,000 went to the United States and 120,000 to the European Union.

According to Carbonell, the market that has grown most consistently in terms of its fresh lemon production is the United States, with a production that he calls “stagnant”, which, given the current world scenario, seems to be a positive thing.



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