"The market is strong and the Rand is weak"

South Africa: Good prospects for pomegranate season

It is two weeks before the pomegranate harvest in South Africa and it is a very busy time in the orchards. It is also the time when the fruit is most vulnerable to pests.

"Everything looks good but you can't tell for sure until you take the fruit off the trees," explains Brent Geddes from Pomona. "Pomegranates are not being affected too much from the drought conditions affecting other fruit at the moment. The growers are able to tap into boreholes to irrigate the fruit and we have been able to keep water on the trees."

Pomegranates are native to Afghanistan so the plants are able to withstand the heat very well. The fruit is a bit different and may suffer from sunburn in hot weather also fruit development takes place at between 25 -30 °C but Geddes said there have been many days of temperatures well into the 30's. So the plants are spending energy just staying alive instead of developing the fruit as they should be at the moment.

"As a consequence fruit size will probably be a little smaller than normal and it will take longer to ripen, the season will then be a couple of weeks later than last year," according to Geddes.

Pomona grows the pomegranates in the Malmesbury area, to the North East of Cape Town and at 100 Hectares are the largest grower in South Africa. The company has not expanded for a year or two, "We are focussing on what we have got for the moment. The market is strong and the Rand is weak so it is looking good for this season. Hopefully if we can get a good year we can invest more back into the business, plant more hectares or invest in the packhouse.

Pomona's main markets are Europe and UK, these are the traditional export markets for South Africa so the infrastructure and shipping routes are all well established, but other markets are growing, such as the Middle East, Hong Kong and Canada.

China is still closed to South Africa, but Pomona has a partner company in Hong Kong where they can export the fruit to.

The pomegranate is very popular in Asia, particularity in China, which together with India has the most pomegranate trees in the world and are big producers, although China doesn't export.

The Chinese like to drink pomegranate juice before and after going to the cinema according to Geddes, and one Chinese company which has 1000 cinemas, has bought juicing machines for its cinemas, and are interested in Pomona's pomegranates.

"We pack all our fruit whole, 1st class fruit is packed in 4kg cartons for supermarkets, processing grade fruit goes to the processors in the various export countries and then the lower class processing fruit goes for juicing' said Geddes.

The percentage of fruit in each class is dependent on the individual fruit quality each season, but is generally 40% extra class and 1st class, 30-35% processing and 25% for juicing.

As for competition on the export market only Peru and Chile is producing pomegranates at the same time as South Africa. India the biggest exporter however is all but finished when South Africa starts but Geddes realises that as storage techniques etc. get better then this may change.

For more information:
Brent Geddes
Tel: +27 82 876 0858
Email: brent@pomegranatesdirect.com

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