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United Exports expect 150% rise in South African blueberry volumes
United Exports is bringing two new blueberriy cultivars to the market this year, called Oz Magica and Oz Bonita. “We’re very excited about them, they’re really exceptional varieties with great flavour, size and crunch,” says Roger Horak, managing director of United Exports.
Volumes from the company’s Australian-bred evergreen blueberry cultivars, bred by renowned blueberry breeder Dave Mazzardis, are expected to be up by 150% this year over last in South Africa, with a doubling expected yearly for the foreseeable future. Fortunately global demand is keeping pace: 80% of United Exports’ South African volumes are for export; more than half to the UK, but also to the EU, the whole of the Middle East and the Far East (Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia).
At the moment there is still supply from Poland on the European market and early volumes from South America are going to the East. Their optimal marketing window overseas for South African blueberries runs from the end of September, October until mid-November.
The South African harvest, which started more than two months ago, is about to reach its peak. About 70% of United Exports berry growers are situated in the north of the country, trailblazing berry production in non-traditional berry areas like Modimolle and Groblersdal. Their season will run until mid-November, with the Cape’s season following roughly a month later. The very early varieties aren’t planted in the Western and Southern Cape because the harvest in May would coincide with the rainy season.
The company is able to get volumes throughout the year from their South African growers, although it slows down from December to February.
As for the Cape drought, Horak says they haven’t thus far seen a major impact. “The challenge will be what happens after the rainy season, going into next year.”
All of the berries grown for United Exports are planted under netting, which is part of the steep input costs in establishing berry orchards. Their grower group is roughly 25 strong at this point, including United Exports’ own farms, as well as private growers, on blocks ranging from 140ha to 10ha.
Roger Horak believes that the official industry figure which puts the South African acreage under blueberry production for 2016 at 1,068ha, is an underestimate. “On our grower’s group we’re just shy of 1,000ha. I think as a country, when you factor in the other berry producers, we’re already over 2,000ha, for sure.”
United Exports is also investing in blueberry expansion in South and North America. “We’re getting very good results in Chile and Peru. In Mexico we have two big projects and we’re hoping to start a project in the US next year.”
Locally, reports differ on whether the market has started feeling the increase in volumes. A major supermarket fresh produce buyer, who is a leader in blueberry marketing, confirms that there are definitely a lot more blueberries around which should drive a trend to lower prices. At the fresh produce market an agent says they haven’t yet seen blueberries picking up; volumes have remained at constant levels for the past three years. On the local fresh produce market a growing wave of volumes is only expected over the next three to five years, as the many young plantings come into full production.
For more information:
Tel: +27 21 851 1618
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