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Citrus Fruit


  • Citrus comprises the following broad categories: oranges, soft citrus, grapefruit, and lemons and limes.
  • These can be consumed as fresh fruit or processed for juice making, juice concentrates and dried fruit production. Citrus fruit can also be processed as essential oils obtained from fruit peels.
  • These are used by the flavour houses to add flavour to drinks and food, by pharmaceutical companies, in aromatherapy and by the cosmetics industry.

International business environment

  • The top producers of oranges are Brazil, China, EU, Mexico and Egypt (SA is at number 7) (USDA, 2023).
  • The top exporters of oranges are Egypt, SA, EU, US and Turkey (USDA, 2023).
  • Top importers of oranges are the EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq and the UK (USDA, 2023).
  • The top producers of tangerines/mandarins: China, EU, Turkey, Morocco and Japan (USDA, 2023). SA is at number 7, but she is the third largest exporter.
  • The top producers of grapefruit are China, Mexico, South Africa, US and Turkey. SA is the top processor and exporter (USDA, 2023).
  • The top producers of lemons and limes: Mexico, Argentina, EU, Turkey and the US. SA is at number 6. The top exporters are Mexico, Turkey and SA (USDA, 2023).
  • World Citrus Organisation (WCO)

Further reference:

South Africa: imports and exports

Citrus makes up 54% of South Africa’s fruit exports (FPEF, 2024).

  • In 2023, oranges were exported to Europe (36%), Far East & Asia (20%), Middle East (20%), North America (9%), Russia (8%), and the UK (5%) (FPEF, 2024).
  • Lemons went to Europe (39%), Middle East (28%), Russia (9%), Far East & Asia (8%), UK (8%) and North America (6%) (FPEF, 2024).
  • Grapefruit was exported to Europe (44%), Far East & Asia (29%), Russia (12%), North America (8%), UK (4%) and the Middle East (3%) (FPEF, 2024).
  • Soft citrus went to Europe (29%), UK (17%), Far East & Asia (14%), Middle East (14%), North America (13%), Russia (9%) (FPEF, 2024).

Newly proposed European Union (EU) regulations threaten the export of oranges from the Southern African region to Europe (Burger, 2022). South African producers and exporters are trying to find alternative markets for produce (BFAP, 2023).

Further reference:

Local business environment

Regions under citrus are climatically diverse. Examples are:

  • the semi-tropical areas of the low-lying eastern seaboard (Zimbabwe, Moçambique, and Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa);
  • the higher lying subtropical areas (Nelspruit, Letaba, Zimbabwe middleveld);
  • the cool coastal areas of the Eastern and Western Cape.

The northern and eastern areas of Southern Africa are all summer rainfall areas, whereas the Western and Southern Cape enjoy a Mediterranean-type climate with winter rainfall. In the Eastern Cape a bimodal rainfall pattern exists with rains mostly occurring in spring and the fall. This broad climatic range from semi-tropical to Mediterranean-type climates has numerous, distinct advantages resulting in a wide range of cultivars being successfully produced from late February/early March through to late September/mid October.

Limpopo (40%), Eastern Cape (25%), Western Cape (19%) and Mpumalanga (8%) have the largest production areas for citrus in South Africa (CGA, 2023).

The largest portion of citrus produce (77%) is exported to foreign countries through export agents (CGA, 2023). The balance goers to local fresh produce markets and processing – juice making and dried fruit (BFAP, 2023).

Projects and new farmer information

The Info Pak (see “Websites & publications” heading) is a practical introduction to growing citrus.

  • CGA Grower Development Company (CGA-GDA) Supporting sustainable and profitable black-owned citrus enterprises
  • Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) has publications which chart new farmer progress. Visit details. Also find the “Transformation” option on the same website.
  • Citrus Academy The Citrus Academy was established with the purpose of creating an enabling environment for skills development within the South African citrus industry.  The activities of the Academy are funded by CGA levies, with additional project funding sources from a variety of donors.


Grower’s points of interest

Citrus Improvement Programme and nursery practices

South African citrus producers purchase their trees from nurseries accredited by the South African Citrus Improvement Scheme (SACIS). The SACIS serves the citrus Industry via a centralised budwood supply farmblock – Citrus Foundation Block (CFB) – near Uitenhage, close to Port Elizabeth. Currently the CFB supplies all certified propagation material to accredited citrus nurseries. A nuclear block of virus-free material of all cultivars is maintained at the Agricultural Research Council-Tropical and Subtropical Crops (ARC-TSC) and at Citrus Research International (CRI) in Nelspruit. All the propagation material, except lemons, has been inoculated with a mild strain of Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV) to protect the trees against the more aggressive CTV strains that is commonly found in southern Africa.


Since the 1980s, rootstocks rendering high internal quality fruit (such as Troyer and Carrizo, X639 and MXT citranges, and Swingle citrumelo) have become the rootstocks of choice. This aspect is important for the future competitiveness of the Southern African citrus industry to produce fruit of high eating quality to compete with citrus production regions such as Argentina, Uruguay and Australia where trifoliate orange rootstock is preferentially used due to the cold tolerance it imparts on the scion. Rough lemon rootstock is still the preferred rootstock for lemons. Where Eureka lemons are used, producers are aware of incompatibility with certain citrange rootstocks.

Planting time and procedure

Since most nurseries are producing trees in containers, time of orchard establishment is not critical. However, in the colder, windy areas the preferred planting time is early spring (September/October).

Nursery trees are commonly topped at 60 to 70 cm height to allow scaffold development to occur at a height of 40 to 60 cm. Growers ensure that trees with goose neck root systems are not planted.

Spacing trends

Citrus tended to be ranched in certain areas, especially the hot climatic regions. Due to increased establishment costs and the need for earlier economic break-even, and the need to have sunlight-, spray- and picker-friendly trees, there has been a move towards increasingly higher planting densities. Also, the new wave of technology development in tree size maintenance, particularly pruning, provide citrus producers with more confidence to plant at higher densities.

In the hotter regions, where Valencia oranges and grapefruit are produced, spacings of 7×3 meters or 6×3 meters are commonly used, whereas in the cooler regions, where Navel oranges, and Clementine and Satsuma mandarins are produced, spacings as wide as 6×3 meters and as close as 4.5 or 5×2 meters are used.

Preplant soil preparation

The high potential soils of the northern areas (with little or no need for pH correction) are usually only ripped and land preparation costs are thus quite low. In the Western Cape region a lot of money is spent on proper ripping and ploughing. Soil pH correction and other ameliorants (phosphorus, sometimes micro-elements) are added in a double ploughing action. Expensive subsoil drainage systems are often required. In addition, in many cases ridging is considered to provide for added drainage or where the soil is high in clay content.

In the case of replant soils the previous trees must be removed with their root systems, the soils must be ploughed and dried out properly to allow the incidence of soil borne pathogens such as Phytophthora to diminish, and replanting should only take place two years after the proper removal of the trees if the soils are not fumigated before replanting.


In certain citrus producing areas windbreaks are necessary to reduce wind blemishes. Many windbreak types have been tested or are commonly used. The most well-adapted windbreak tree throughout Southern Africa is beefwood or Casuarina (Casuarina cunninghamiana Miq.). Pinus radiata D. Don and silky oak (Grevillea robusta A. Cunn) are sometimes used. Deciduous type windbreaks are often used as secondary windbreaks in conjunction with beefwood in the Western Cape, e.g. Dutch alder (Alnus cordata) and Chinese poplar (Populus simonii [syn. P. obtusa]).

Row orientation

Whereas it is not so critical to plant in north-south row directions in the northern regions (lower latitude, dry winters), it is still commonly done. In the more southern latitudes, with the more extreme angle of the sun and where rain or dew can keep the tree wet for extended periods during harvest, it is essential to plant in a north-south row direction, especially with Alternaria susceptible cultivars.

Irrigation and fertigation

Under-tree microsprinkler irrigation systems are most commonly used, while a few orchards still use overhead sprinkler irrigation. More recently, however, drip irrigation systems have become increasingly common, with an increased use of drip fertigation where pH and electrical conductivity are controlled in a balanced nutrient solution which is provided daily to restrict root system development in a bid to control tree phenology. To attain good eating quality, pre-harvest water stress (limited or deficit irrigation) has become an accepted practice, for example with Satsuma mandarin.


Fertilisation of bearing trees is exclusively based on annual leaf analysis data from leaves from fruiting terminals and the previous history of the orchard with respect to yield, fruit size, quality and previous fertilisation record. Nitrogen phosphorus and potassium are most commonly applied as soil applications, whereas magnesium and the micro-elements (copper, boron, zinc, manganese and molybdenum) are applied as foliar applications, when required. Soil pH correction is achieved by the addition of calcitic or dolomitic lime, and water penetration or salinity problems are addressed by the application of gypsum.


In some production regions there is a shift towards selective pruning by hand or with pneumatic pruning equipment. Most large orchards are, however, hedged and topped mechanically. Though higher density plantings are the norm, growers should guard against too dense plantings which could result in crops being pruned away. Managing post prune re-growth is critical.

Source: Citrus Research International. Visit

National strategy and government contact

The National Development Plan (NDP) recognised the potential of commercial agriculture for job creation. In setting its targets for job creation, the NDP recognised:

  • The employment requirement to produce citrus fruit is estimated at one worker per hectare of an estimated 60 000 translating into about 60 000 workers employed on citrus farms.
  • Direct downstream labour requirements for citrus are estimated at one labourer per 2 500 cartons packed: with about 100 million cartons packed per year, some 40 000 jobs are created in packing plants for a period of six months, or 20 000 full-time equivalents.
  • In addition, there are labour requirements for transportation, warehousing, port handling, research and development, and processing

Citrus – like several other labour-intensive sectors like table grapes, apples, macadamias, pecans and avocadoes – has already reached and gone beyond the targets set by the NDP (BFAP, 2020, 2019).

For the country’s champion agricultural export to do better, additional market access and port efficiency are crucial. Both have been given priority under the newly signed Agriculture and Agro-processing Masterplan.

Find the Agricultural Product Standards Act: Regulations: Grading, packing and marking of citrus fruit intended for sale in South Africa at

Role players

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Citrus Growers Association (CGA) – The CGA is mandated to maximise the long-term profitability of its members. A statutory levy allows it to fund a number of programmes – mainly research and research-related (disease management, integrated pest management and fruit quality enhancement). Other programmes include citrus improvement, market access, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, technology transfer, information and industry transformation. On the request of growers, logistics has now been included in the range of services offered to citrus growers and exporters.
International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) – Find contact details for the South African representative on the website.
ARC-Agricultural Engineering (AE) – ARC-AE training and research includes on farm processing – equipment, infrastructure, publications, advice etc. Contact it for the Agro-processing of Citrus Fruit manual.
ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops (TSC) – The ARC-TSC runs training courses on demand. It also breeds new varieties and houses the citrus quarantine facility.
Citrus Research International (CRI) – CRI, the research arm of Citrus Growers Association, has been commissioned to research and develop the technical issues required to enhance access of southern African citrus to world markets. This includes requirements for opening new markets and retaining and improving access to existing markets. Read about research, the Citrus Improvement Scheme (CIS), Extension and more on the website
Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) – PPECB “provides internationally preferred food, safety, quality and assurance services to promote and instil confidence in South African products”. Contact details of all their regional branches are available on their website.
Citrus Improvement Scheme and its Citrus Foundation Block (CFB) Tel: 041 992 5366 Citrus Foundation Block is responsible for multiplication of citrus propagation material. Commercial citrus nurseries buy budwood from the Foundation Block to make trees for the industry.

Further reference:



  • The general “Fruit” page has contact details for the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum and other relevant bodies.

CGA group of companies (details above):

  • CGA Cultivar Company
  • Citrus Research International (Pty) Ltd. (CRI)
  • Citrus Foundation Block: Uitenhage

Citrus Marketing Forum Joint Chairpersons: Anton Kruger (CEO-FPEF) and Justin Chadwick (CEO-CGA). The CMF currently meets two or three times a year, at the beginning of the citrus season, mid season (if necessary) and end of season. Export agents, growers of export citrus and other stakeholders have an opportunity to voice their opinions and discuss the various markets. Estimates for the various commodity types are also discussed and the meeting is therefore made aware of the destination of the fruit and can discuss alternative destinations and advise the export agents accordingly.


  • National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) Agricultural industry Trusts (including the citrus one) are administered here.
  • Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) PPECB provides internationally preferred food, safety, quality and assurance services to promote and instil confidence in South African products. Contact details of all their regional branches are available on their website.

Training and research

  • Citrus Academy The Bursary Fund supports students and a variety of academic institutions all over South Africa, and is paired with work experience and exposure programmes. The Citrus Academy also develops learning programmes and learning media that is used widely to enable and support skills development in the citrus industry. The website of the Citrus Academy has been designed as a functional tool where visitors can apply for bursaries, look for qualified candidates, find learning media and resources, access learning programmes, get involved in learning events, and catch up with the latest news of the Skills Development front.



Learnerships and apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job learning along with some theoretical training. The major part of the training can be offered on the farm. Find information on learnerships on the “Agricultural education & training” page, or on the AgriSETA website, (under “Skills delivery” option).

Websites and publications

  • The websites of the associations involved are a useful place to start when looking for information e.g. and
  • The Citrus Growers Association publishes a Citrus Statistics booklet every year in about May. This publication is free to all growers and members of the Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF).
  • Raath P. (ed.). 2021. Handbook for Fertilisation of Citrus in South Africa. Mbombela: Citrus Research Institute.
  • The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline looks at fruit generally before zooming in closer on citrus fruit. Find the document at
  • Check whether the annual Citrus Market Value Chain Profile is still being published at, website of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). Also look for (i) Brochure grapefruit, (ii) Brochure Orange, (iii) the Info Pak Cultivation of Citrus, and (iv) Step-by-step Export manual for the South African fruit industry.
  • The Cultivation of Citrus and Citrus Pests in the Republic of South Africa, two publications published by the ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops. Tel: 013 753 7000.
  • Call the ARC-Agricultural Engineering at 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for the publication Processing of Citrus Fruit (Grapefruit, lemons, oranges).
  • CD Roms from the ARC-PHP (Plant Health and Protection) include: (i) Crop Pests, vol. 2: Citrus and Other Subtropicals (ii) Medically Important Spiders and Scorpions of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] or infopri [at]
  • Citrus is dealt with in the publication “Fruit and nut production in KZN“, which can be downloaded at
  • The AgriSETA Assessment Guide Primary Agriculture “Monitor the establishment of a crop” includes orchard trees. Another relevant learner guides include “Harvesting agricultural crops”.
  • Find the Orange Tree Information page at
  • Local and international links are provided on role player websites.
  • The South African Fruit Journal is published bi-monthly and distributed to growers free of charge. Copies can be purchased – refer to
  • The photo gallery shows the different pests of citrus fruit.
  • Previous documents from the NAMC and DALRRD have looked at South Africa’s trade in oranges. Find the South African Fruit Trade Flow and the TradeProbe at



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