Citrus crop threatened by drought

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 15 October 2010

Fears are growing that the current drought in the Eastern Cape may lead to poor citrus crops in the province’s Patensie and Sundays River Valley areas.

This would have a major impact on the province’s economy as the citrus industry is one of its driving forces.

Citrus Growers’ Association Patensie director Phillip Dempsey warned the industry would be in trouble if there was not sufficient rainfall by the end of November as there would be no crops available for export.

“There has not been sufficient rainfall this year, but the real problem will come in by the end of November and beginning of December as the summer months are the time that these orchards are most dependent on a lot of water,” said Dempsey.

He said about 10000ha of orchards required rain and most of the citrus fruit from these orchards was destined for the export market.

“This is where the real money for the area comes from. We export to Europe, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Middle East and the Far East. Sales to the local market are relatively small, so we rely on the export market. If the fruit looks unattractive, these markets will not buy our fruit and then we are in serious trouble,” said Dempsey.

He said not only did the drought affect the amount of fruit produced, it also affected the size, especially if there was not enough rain from December until February when the citrus required the most water.

“If there is no rain there is a chance these crops will fail and it will definitely affect the economy of the area. The water restrictions have also affected crops because we are planting fewer things like potatoes to use that water for the citrus, so there is some land which is bare, meaning we will receive no income from that land.”

He said the mood among the farmers was very negative, especially because they were uncertain about whether they would be able to sell their crops or not.

“This drought has affected the whole of the Eastern Cape, however the Sundays River farmers are not as hard hit as our farmers because they are not under water restrictions as we are. The problem is that we will not know until the end of November and by then there will not be anything we can do about it,” said Dempsey.

Sundays River Citrus Company technical manager Dave Gerber said that although the area still had sufficient water as they were supplied from the Gariep Dam, rain was still needed to ensure better quality citrus was produced.

“Production is always better in seasons characterised by good spring and summer rain, while fruit size also tends to be larger in wet seasons,” he said.

Although plentiful, Sundays River Valley water is not of great quality, resulting in the build up of salts in the soil profile. Good rains assist by leaching these salts, which are toxic to plants, out of the soil.

He said dry seasons were also characterised by higher levels of pests in the orchards, to which they migrate due to lack of food in their natural environments. These also “negatively influence fruit quality”

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