By Gina Marzolo, graduate student of agricultural sciences, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, firstname.lastname@example.org, August 2016.
Edited by Dan Lee, communications specialist – College of Agriculture, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, email@example.com, August 2016.
Lychee (Litchi chinensis Sonn.) is the most popular known edible fruit of the plant family Sapindaceae. It is a subtropical fruit native to Southern China (Morton, 1987), with records of lychee cultivation in China dating back to 111 B.C. (Huang, 2002).
Two less known specialty fruits in the same plant family are rambutans and longans. The outer skin of lychee, rambutans, and longans all look different in appearance, although their edible inner fruit are almost identical (Yingling, 2014).
Lychees are similar in size to English walnuts. Their outer skin is inedible, can be different shades of pink or red when ripe, is slightly rough and bumpy, and is easy to remove. The color of the edible inner fruit is translucent white, and its texture is similar to that of a grape. Lychee fruit has a sweet flavor with delicate floral notes (“Lychees” – Specialty Produce, n.d.).
The first commercial plantings of lychee in the United States were established in Laurel, Fla., in 1940 (Eaton, 1950). Florida is the leading producer of lychee in the United States, followed by Hawaii and California (Evans et al, 2004) (Mossler, 2009).
In the United States, the season for fresh lychee starts in May and lasts through summer. Processed lychee products are available year round (Turow, 2010).
Lychee fruit (both fresh and processed) have always been popular among Asian consumers, and the fruit can easily be found in Asian grocery stores and markets (Warnert, 2010).
However, in the past two decades, demand for lychee in the United States has increased across all cultures. Unfortunately, in the late 1990s, this demand was met by a large influx of imports instead of domestic supply. From 1998 to 2003, imports of lychee increased from 967.9 tons to 3,345.8 tons, with the majority of imports coming from Taiwan. This influx temporarily lowered the price per pound of lychee from $5.10 per pound received by farmers in 1998 to $1.10 per pound received by farmers in 2003 (Evans et al, 2004).
Fortunately, the price per pound of lychee received by farmers has increased and is currently between $2.75 and $5.90 per pound (Love & Paull, 2012) (Kawabata & Nakamoto, 2013). This increase might be due to consumers becoming more motivated to buy locally sourced products that are superior in quality, a niche that U.S. growers can continue to utilize (DiMartino, 2013).
Selling lychee fresh is the best market for domestically produced lychee in the United States.
Lychee will usually only be processed in areas where supply exceeds demand (Diczbalis, 2011) (Evans et al, 2011).
To add value, lychee can be bagged during production. Bagging during production has many benefits including, deterring pests—thus reducing pesticide use—and increasing yields and uniform ripening. Studies have also shown that consumers prefer bagged lychee to lychee that is not bagged (Kawabata & Nakamoto, 2013). To receive the most return, fresh lychee is best sold through farm stands, farmers’ markets, and direct to local chefs and grocers (Love & Paull, 2012).
Some growers process lychee to provide sales to their customers during the off-season. If processing lychee to add value, lychees can be candied, canned, dried, frozen, processed into jams, preserves, syrups for beverages and other uses (Diczbalis, 2011) (Evans et al, 2011) (“You've Never Had" - New Belgium Brewing Company, 2016).
According to the most recent data, the world’s total lychee production in 2014 was 2.6 million tons (“2014 Vietnam’s Lychee Export” - Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, 2014).
China is the largest producer of lychee in the world, followed by India (“The Litchi Scenario” – National Research Centre on Litchi, 2016). China produced approximately 1.5 million tons of lychees in 2014, roughly 57 percent of the world’s total (“2014 Vietnam’s Lychee Export” - Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, 2014). India produced 645,183 tons of lychees on 207,989 acres during the production year of 2013-2014. Bihar, India produces the majority of lychee in the country, producing more than 40 percent of the country’s total (“The Litchi Scenario” – National Research Centre on Litchi, 2016).
Lychee is considered a minor fruit crop in the United States; therefore information regarding production is limited. Lychee trees can fluctuate in yield from year to year. Yields can range from 600 pounds per acre in an off year to 10,000 pounds per acre during heavy-bearing years, thus making the yearly economic average about 5,000 pounds per acre (Mossler, 2009).
The most recent data for lychee production in the United States is from the production year 2014. In that year the U.S. produced 600 tons of lychee (an increase of 38.6 percent over the past 14 years) (“2014 Vietnam’s Lychee Export” - Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, 2014). A 2004 article stated that in the year 2000, Florida was growing 1,200 acres, Hawaii 300 acres, and California 60 acres, with the annual production that year estimated at 433 tons (Evans, 2004).
A more recent article from 2013 stated that Hawaii had approximately 150 commercial growers, producing 230,000 pounds of lychee. According to that same article, lychee had a farm-gate price of $2.75 per pound in 2011, which resulted in the total commercial lychee crop value of $633,000 in Hawaii. An aspect that largely affects lychee price per pound is bagging the fruit versus non-bagging. Growers who bag their lychee fruit during production can gain 2.5 to over 3 times more in returns than lychees that are not bagged (Kawabata & Nakamoto, 2013).
The year 2012 showed that the price per pound of lychee, when sold to a wholesaler, was $3.50 per pound, the wholesale price to a chef or grocer was $4.55 per pound, and the grocer’s or farmers’ market selling price was $5.90 per pound (Love & Paull, 2012).
Since lychee is a minor fruit crop in the United States, there is currently no export, import, or per capita consumption data available through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service or Foreign Agricultural Service (ERS, 2016) (FAS, 2016).
Lychee trees perform best in regions where winters are dry and summers are hot and humid. It is for this reason that lychee trees do so well in Florida (Vieth, n.d.). Lychees are also believed to be well suited as a new commercial crop for small farms along California’s coast (Warnert, 2010). A caution should be made, however, since lychee trees are very sensitive to salts, thus direct coastal exposure should be avoided, and salt levels in irrigation water should be monitored closely (Corrigan, n.d.) (“Relative Tolerances” – WateReuse Foundation, 2007).
Lychee trees require a lot of water and do well when the soil is kept moist; thus surface mulch is recommended in areas with very hot and dry conditions. To stimulate fruiting, water should be withheld from the tree for six to eight weeks before flower set, and water should be slowly increased after fruit set to prevent the fruit from prematurely dropping (Vieth, n.d.).
Lychee trees must be protected from frost and the wind until they are fully established (approximately three years). Once established, lychee trees can survive temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit, though only for brief periods. Although considered sub-tropical, lychee trees have a chilling requirement of 100 to200 hours between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit to properly set fruit (Vieth, n.d.).
Some of the most important aspects of a commercial lychee orchard are harvest and post-harvest practices. Lychees are considered a non-climacteric fruit, meaning they will not ripen off the tree. This is an important factor regarding the proper timing of harvest. Color and size are the best indicators of when the fruit is ripe. Depending on the cultivar, the fruit will be brilliant pink or red and the fruit size will be larger than 25 millimeters in diameter (Kader, 1998) (“Helpful Hints” – ALGA, n.d.).
After harvesting, lychee fruit must be stored at precise temperatures and humidity to maintain freshness and visual appeal for sale. The optimum cold storage for lychee is 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and the optimum relative humidity during storage is 90-95 percent (Kader, 1998). Lychee can be placed in cold storage for three months; however, browning of the fruit’s skin will occur around 10 days, which will make the fruit less attractive for sale, but not affect its quality. When selling fresh lychee at farmers’ markets and grocery stores the fruits should be sprayed intermittingly with water to keep them hydrated, preventing browning. It is also recommended that the fruits not be piled too high to avoid cracking the fruit’s skin (“Helpful Hints” – ALGA, n.d.).
Helpful enterprise budget for lychee:
2014 Vietnam’s Lychee Export, Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, 2014.
Corrigan, R. (n.d.). When Does a Lychee Tree Bloom, SFGate.
Diczbalis, Y. (2011). Farm and Forestry Production and Marketing Profile for Lychee (Litchi chinensis), Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry, Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Holualoa, Hawai‘i.
DiMartino, C. (2013). Tracking demographics reveals where consumption of fruits and vegetables is highest in the United States, The Produce News.
Eaton, D. (1950). Marketing Fresh Lychees, Florida State Horticultural Society.
Evans, E., Degner, R., Crane, J., Rafie, R., and Balerdi, C. (2004). Is it still profitable to Grow Lychee in Florida?, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Evans, E., Degner, R., and Morgan, K. (2011). Six Ways to Improve the Profitability of Lychee in South Florida, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Fruit and Tree Nut Data - Exports/Imports, USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), 2015.
Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA, 2015.
Helpful Hints for Retailers, Australian Lychee Growers Association (ALGA), n.d.
Huang, X. (2002). Lychee Production in China, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Kader, A.A. (1998). Lychee: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Kawabata, A. and Nakamoto, S.T. (2013). Lychee Fruit Bagging for Commercial and Home Growers, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Love, K. and Paull, R. (2012). Pricing Produce and Products for Fair Profit
Based on Cost of Production, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Lychees, Specialty Produce, n.d.
Morton, J. (1987). Fruits of warm climates – Lychee, Purdue University.
Mossler, M. (2009). Florida Crop/Pest Management Profile: Lychee and Longan, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Relative Tolerances of Trees to Salinity, WateReuse Foundation, 2007.
The Litchi Scenario, National Research Centre on Litchi, 2016.
Turow, E. (2010). Cracking the Lychee ‘Nut’, National Public Radio.
Vieth, R. (n.d.) Lychee, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Warnert, J.E. (2010). Lychee: Good for the Body, Good for the Farm, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Yingling, K. (2014). What Is the Difference Between the Lychee, Rambutan and Longan?, The Huffington Post.
You’ve Never Had a Sour Beer Like this Before, New Belgium Brewing Company, 2016.
Links checked June 2018