Load shedding weighs on citrus industry as it moves into peak harvest season

Oranges on a conveyer belt at a Fruit Packing Plant in South Africa. (Image: Getty)

Oranges on a conveyer belt at a Fruit Packing Plant in South Africa. (Image: Getty)
  • The citrus industry is feeling the pressure of load shedding, with cold storage operators incurring big expenses from running their generators.
  • The current round of load shedding, reaching Stage 6, comes as the industry awaits official notice of the EU’s new cold storage requirements.
  • The lingering power cuts are also disturbing farmers picking and packing operations.
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The impact of South Africa’s load shedding is weighing on the citrus industry that must run costly generators to keep fruit fresh as the European Union’s (EU) new cold storage regulations loom.

At the export harbours, cold storage operators, especially in the Eastern and Western Cape, are feeling the pressure, the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) has said.

Cold storage operators at the Durban port have not felt much of the pressure yet, as the eThekwini municipality has been exempted from load shedding while the province recovers from the recent floods. Load shedding in the area will recommence on 1 August, however, the CGA plans to engage Transnet on keeping them exempt, as more than 60% citrus destined for overseas markets is exported through that port.

“When it comes to other parts of the country, such as Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, cold storage operators have also invested in generators to ensure the cold stores are not impacted by load shedding,” the CGA said.

“However, this obviously comes at a cost, in order to keep these running during prolonged periods of outages, such as those experienced recently under Stage 6,” it said.

Over the past week and half, South Africa has experienced one of the worst bouts of rolling blackouts of varying stages. Before this round of load shedding, the country had only undergone Stage 6 once, in 2019.

Although the country’s agriculture ministry has not received official notice of the EU’s new measures requiring fruit from South Africa to be stored at extreme cold conditions, the persisting power supply issues poses a huge risk to the industry.

Last month, the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed moved to vote in a law that would force orange producers from the country to store their fruit between 0°C to -1°C, for at least 16 days before export. The new law is being instituted for fruit coming from third world counties because the EU wants to guard against false coddling moth incidents.

Second to the impact on cold storage operations, the power outages have affected farmers’ ability to harvest and pack fruit, just as the industry moves into its peak harvest season.

“While some farmers have invested in generators and other back-up power sources in order to remain operational during power outages, this has required a further outlay of capital at a time when growers are facing a number of rising input costs,” the CGA said.

All round, the agricultural sector is already contending with fuel price hikes, exorbitant fertiliser costs, and increases in shipping costs.

“It is therefore critical that the current challenges being faced by Eskom, which has impacted its ability to supply power to the country is addressed as soon as possible,” the CGA said.