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South Africa: Positive European apple market

Despite the challenging growing conditions in some of the major production areas, the estimate of topfruit exports from South Africa is expected to increase slightly by 3% (for both apples and pears). The main driver behind this is new plantings coming into commercial volumes and the Langkloof production area yielding a normal harvest for the first time in more than 3 seasons.

The extreme heat and drought conditions are making things difficult for all fruit exports at the moment. According to Jacques du Preez from Hortgro if you look at the stonefruit season it can give a good indication of what will happen with the topfruit.

"For early stonefruit the fruit set was lighter so sizes were OK, but with the main volumes the sizes were smaller due to the heat and lack of water," explains du Preez.

"The early pear harvest was also smaller in size and the lack of of cold nights has meant that the blush is not what it should be on the pears, but the eating quality is good and the storage quality is also good," said du Preez.

"We have not reduced the minimum size requirement for pears although there were calls to do that. There are enough small sizes around and local processing prices are very good just now. For the early Williams there was a big pull to that side of the market, and eventually we realised an average export crop.

"Exporters are taking heed of all the factors and doing the right thing instead of opening the season with a huge amount of small Williams and making it difficult for the rest of the season," according to du Preez

Small volumes of apples were sent to China last year, unfortunately size and colour may be a challenge for that market this year, but that is fine says du Preez as they are happy to grow the Chinese market slowly. He is hopeful that pears will gain access to the Chinese market very soon, the technical details have been taken care of and they are just waiting for the ministers to sign the papers so it could happen any time.

The European market is looking positive this year as it has been said that the quality of apples and pears at the moment is not great and a lot will go for processing. The stocks may be done earlier than normal, the UK also likes the small sizes. South African volumes to the UK increased to 34% last year, volumes from Chile were up the previous year but South Africa seems to be the preferred supplier again.

Africa is going to be a difficult market this year due to low oil price, the countries with energy based economies are taking a knock at the moment and this has decreased their buying power, but it's still early as exports there start later.

Traditionally the UK has been the top export market for South African apples but in recent years Africa has caught up, it even over took in terms of volumes a couple of years ago. Last year the UK made a comeback but Africa is still just ahead of it in terms of imports, du Preez reckons they will be pretty equal this year or the UK may overtake again.

As for other new markets they are working with Indonesia for Country of Recognition status, which could happen at any time according to du Preez and Thailand has just opened for table grapes and apples are next on list.

"There is no host of new apple varieties in South Africa as you see in NZ," said du Preez. "We are planting better strains with more colour, such as Fuji, Royal Gala and Royal Beaut which are nice red apples, we are improving existing ones to get better yields and better packouts."

Varieties on the increase in South Africa are Golden, Gala, Fuji and Pink Lady.

The devaluation of the Rand will be positive in the short term, but it is estimated that production costs will increase by 25% next year, from last year to this year they have already increased around 15%.

For more information:
Jacques du Preez
Tel: +27 82 864 8149

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