Written by: Charlene Leicester Grant
Covid-19 has been everyone’s reality for the last two years, so as we headed into our 2021 citrus season, we thought Covid would be our biggest challenge. Boy, were we wrong! Covid was still our too-often inflexible and unforgiving reality, but its complexities started to converge into additional challenges, to name a few:
● Shortages of reefer and dry shipping containers
● Space shortages on break bulk vessels
● Strikes in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, which blocked major highways and thus fruit trucks
● Harbour staff not able to get to work
● Containers not moving due to a lack of transport
● Transhipment of containers causing delays
● The hacking of Transnet’s online system, leading to delays and additional costs at the port
● Import containers standing at Pier 1 causing delays in container rotation and loading delays
● As fruit was not moving, cold rooms filled up, causing further backlog issues.
● Accidents on the road with a truck full of fruit.
What was even more incredible than these continuous never-ending challenges, however, was the tenacity and creativity of our colleagues in the industry meeting these curve-balls head on and finding increasingly innovative ways to keep the system running! At one point, in the middle of the season, farms stopped picking fruit and packhouses stopped packing. This is unheard of! Everyone is always chasing markets and price-sensitive deadlines, and yet it all stopped to give the ports space to sort out delays, get bottlenecks flowing, and systems back online. We say thanks to Justin Chatwick and his whole team at Citrus Growers Association for the amazing work and research they have done with focus groups to keep this industry growing.
All involved in the citrus industry should be incredibly proud of surviving this season. It has been brutal, but we have risen above it and are all better for it. May the next one goes a bit gentler on us though.