The process seems easy: pick the fruit, pack the fruit, send it off to its destination, but in order for a lemon to go from South Africa to an overseas market, there is a much more complicated process at play.
The process to send a proudly South African lemon overseas starts early each year. Although the first blooms already start appearing in September of the previous year, the first real man-made intervention, called stressing, occurs around March/April of the next year. Irrigation schedules are cut to near-zero during a very hot time of the year. This process increases the volume each tree will produce. From the end of April to May the fertilisation program is kicked off. The trees are then given the royal treatment in order to grow the best possible quality fruit.
Every market has specifications on permissible chemicals and so orchards are earmarked for specific markets and managed accordingly. Spraying for pests normally takes place between June and November, with some ingredients being applied two to three times over a 6-month period. Because every market has different specifications, a MRL (minimum residue limit) sample needs to be drawn for each production unit to provide the receiver with evidence that the prescribed guidelines were followed carefully.
The fruit only gets picked once the internal quality is ready. This quality is determined by the juice percentage, as well as acid and sugar levels. Once the fruit is ready for picking, the marketing team takes over to allocate the fruit to a market. In order to enter a market such as Europe, the team needs to do an application for removal permits and orchard inspections. A sample must be drawn from each orchard to be inspected for FCM and CBS. Once approvals are obtained, the picking can finally commence.
When picking starts, the packhouse receives a specification for each market by colour, size, internal quality, and grade. The packhouse packs each market’s fruit on separate lines to ensure that the fruit does not get mixed. When the fruit is packed in cartons, 80 cartons are loaded onto a pallet, strapped, and inspected for export. If the pallet passes, it will be loaded onto a truck and sent to the harbour. When the fruit arrives at the harbour, it will be taken into a cold room facility to get the fruit to the right temperature to be loaded out. From here the fruit will be booked onto a shipping vessel, loaded into a container and finally onto a ship!
Roughly 16-25 days later, the fruit will arrive at its destination port. The container will be opened by the receiver and checked. We have very few issues at this point, as our clients are normally very satisfied with the quality of our lemons – I’d go as far as to label them as “royal quality”! The fruit is then moved from the destination port to the retail shop, where some lucky person will be the one to buy our product off the shelf. And that is how a Hoedspruit lemon ends up on a European shelf.