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Contrary to expectations, wind, heat and even hail exerted more influence than the Western Cape drought

South Africa: buoyant start to plum season peters out towards end

At the start of the South African plum season all eyes were on the well-publicised water situation, but the farmers’ rigorous water measures pulled them through. Unfortunately, the drought wasn’t the only weather event with which they had to contend: unusually strong and persistent winds coupled with sunburn and even hail in some areas, were the main reasons for a reduction in export volumes estimated by traders at between 20 and 30%.

“The volumes were on the trees but due to wind marks and sunburn the exports packouts were low,” says Annelie Haumann, managing director of Stems Fruit. Production-wise, it wasn’t an easy year. It was very hot in the Western Cape during January and February and in some orchards the pulp temperature rose to 50°C. It came as no surprise that fruit were generally smaller – the most small fruit in five years, some say. There were some internal quality problems, but the eating quality and shelf life was good. 

And the market was waiting: especially during the early and mid-season, supplies were short and demand strong and during that period South African plums obtained higher prices than last year. In fact, some traders call this the best plum season they've had in years.

Tail-end of the season dampened by Chilean volumes
The impact of European retailers’ uncertainty around South African volumes started to be felt later in the season as more volumes than usual from Chile came in to cover the expected shortfall and the price for late plums came under pressure. 

The demand for early and mid-season plums was particularly stable and strong in Europe where domestic production came to an early end (Europe takes 49% of South African plums) and the UK (accounting for a further 26%), but less so in the Middle East where there wasn’t much change in the demand for plums. Some traders report that they sent fewer containers to the Far East this year as they prioritised meeting their fixed retail programmes in the EU, UK and Hong Kong with the available volumes.

The biggest reduction was to the African market, which received 39% (YTD) fewer South African plums than last year. Plums to the United States and Canada bucked the trend, with an increase of 364%, but still at low volumes (49,000 cartons, barely 1% of the volumes that South Africa sends to Europe).

YTD export volumes are almost 2 million 5.25kg cartons (17%) down on last year’s YTD volumes, coming to over 9.7 million cartons by the end of week 18.

Fortunately, the domestic plum market was receptive and some traders sent all of their volumes of certain cultivars, like Pioneer, to the local market. 

The last plums (mostly Angeleno and Flavor Fall) are leaving the country in a season that started late and ends a bit later than last year.

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