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“When our fruit is packed, the Cape fruit starts. There is a nice synergy.”
Apple growers in northern South Africa very happy with prices
South Africa is known for its apples from the Western Cape, but an increasing amount of apples come from new production areas in the Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo Provinces where the industry is about 20 years old (less in Limpopo).
The main advantage that growers from these areas enjoy, is their ability to get apples to an empty market – as early as mid-December in the case of Limpopo, at the height of summer holiday season in South Africa, which ensures very good prices. Customers are also able to enjoy freshly picked apples, at a time when Cape apples on the market had been in CA storage for months.
They also have an early entry to the export market: the Pink Lady® harvest starts in about a week in the Free State and when their apples are packed, the Pink Lady® harvest starts in the Western Cape. Through sending the first apples to the EU, exporters can negotiate a good opening to the season, prolonged by the decentralisation of South African production.
In Mpumalanga and the Free State apple growers normally start harvesting Royal Gala apples in week 2, two to three weeks before the harvest starts in the traditional production areas of Ceres, Grabouw, the Langkloof and other parts of the Western Cape. Hein Punt of Maluti Fruit in Bethlehem says that Free State growers are happy with the Royal Gala and Top Red harvest. “It’s 10 to 20% higher than last year, when we had our lowest harvest in years due to the drought. Some growers were affected by late frost during flowering in October and November – some farmers lost their entire harvest this way.” However, for those with successful harvests the colour and quality is good. Their Royal Gala apples go to Africa, the Far East and the Middle East.
Punt continues: “Our focus is to get Pink Lady® apples to the UK. It is a very attractive market to us and we strive to meet their high standards.” At the moment 30 to 40% of their harvest is destined for that market. The season ends with Sundowner.
Nono Sekhoto of Makolobane Farmers Enterprises says that their yield of 100t was still down from their estimates, because of the drought. They produce their Royal Gala apples mainly for the domestic market.
In Mpumalanga, reports are also favourable. “It went very well. Our Royal Gala, Top Red and Fuji are packed. They’re a bit smaller than usual but the colour is nice and we received really very good prices on the local market. It is actually a strange year – we’re getting such good prices locally that we’re sending 80% of our apples to the local market through Freshmark and Pick n Pay,” reports Ryk Pretorius of the farm Winkelhaak in Mpumalanga. Their Pink Lady® harvest will start in a week to ten days, followed by Sundowner. They will send their Pink Lady® apples to the UK where it is marketed by Kromco fruit exporters. “When our fruit is packed, the Cape fruit starts. There is a nice synergy.”
According to Ian Snetler of Kromco, most apple exports from inland South Africa are destined for Africa, specifically Nigeria and East Africa, as well as the Far East.
The downside to apple production in the north, is the non-negotiable presence of hail nets. Not only does that add considerably to input costs, but orchards receive about 10% less sunlight. “It has a subduing effect on yield – our yield can be up to 20% lower than in the Cape. We have to continuously ring our trees to suppress vegetative growth,” explains Pretorius.
Production areas in the north are still much smaller than in the Western Cape. According to Hortgro’s 2015 figures, there are 507ha of apples in the Free State, 187ha in Mpumalanga and a mere 22ha in Limpopo.
The current Limpopo apple area is estimated at about 120ha by Dr Leon von Mollendorff of Culdevco, which holds the license to market and commercialise new apple cultivars developed by the Infruitec-Nietvoorbij facility of the Agricultural Research Council. This, however, includes young trees not yet in production. Cultivars with lower cold requirements, such as Afri Star, Afri Blush, Afri Glo, Afri Coral, Afri Rose and Afri Sunrise, were developed for South African lower chilling conditions. They have only been commercially available in South Africa, for the past five years. Supermarkets as well customers have reacted very favourably. “These are all sweet apples which fit into the profile of customers in South Africa and Africa,” Von Mollendorff says. They are being evaluated in other hot parts of the world, like Spain and Egypt.
In Mpumalanga the apple industry is expanding, with lands previously planted with summer grains like maize (corn) and soybeans converted to apple orchards. Ryk Pretorius says that there are plans to double the apple production area over the coming five years. The limiting factor to expansion is currently the availability of planting material.
In the eastern Free State, there is an apple expansion project initiated by apple growers in collaboration with various government departments and the Harrismith municipality. According to Nono Sekhoto: “The plan is to start with 20ha’s worth of trees (Royal Gala and Pink Lady®) but we need to secure a large grant to start planting. The wheels are turning slowly but we expect to start planting in August.” These apples would then be processed at a juicing factory which, if all goes well, will be financed by the South African Department of Trade and Industry and leased to the project.
For more information:
Tel: +27 58 304 3367
Hi-Veld Fruit Packers
Tel: + 082 853 8307
Makolobane Farmers Enterprises
Tel: +27 73 414 6151
Dr Leon von Mollendorff
Tel: +27 21 870 2900
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