Robert van Melle:

“Climate has effect on southern hemisphere grapes”

During the second half of this year, the grape production in Southern Europe finished earlier than in other years. The countries in the southern hemisphere then took over from, among others, the Spanish, Italian and Greek grapes. In some cases, the grape was affected by drought, rain and flooding in South Africa, Brazil and Peru, according to Robert van Melle of Origin Fruit Direct.

Brazil: slightly poorer quality, but better prices
Late September, early October, the harvest started in Brazil. Although quality is fine, the market is good, according to Robert. “Some quality problems can be seen here and there,” he says. “It’s been a cold period, and there was much rain just before the harvest. Mid-October, grapes started arriving in Europe. The harvest is now still in full swing in Petrolina, the most important table grape region of Brazil. But again there’s the danger of rain, although that’s normal for the ending of the Brazilian harvest. Our new varieties can handle the rain better, although they shouldn’t get too much either.”

According to Robert, the poorer quality of Brazilian grapes is mostly visible visually. “Flavour is good, although there’s a bit more decay, skin damage and mould than usual. Regarding volume, we’re slightly below last year’s level, but that isn’t reflected in market prices. The European season is as good as finished. The European market emptied earlier this year, so that the overseas grape season started a bit earlier than usual. Prices are estimated to be 10 to 20 per cent higher compared to last year, although volume is a bit lower. There’s strong demand; all grapes are practically sold before being loaded on the boat. It’s expected that volumes will recover, and that we’ll have the same amount of import as last year.”

South Africa: south struggling with drought, production in north looks good
The harvest in South Africa will be in full swing in December. According to Robert, the country can be divided into two when looking at the grape production. “In the north of South Africa, near Orange River and the border with Namibia, it’s looking well,” he continues. “Namibia is also expecting a decent harvest. In the south of South Africa the situation is different. Due to protracted drought, they now have a shortage. Some growers are choosing to dig springs. Others choose to only provide the high-quality varieties with water. The water is then led to better vines, and the lesses vines, which in many cases were already on the list to be replaced within the next two years, are not watered.”

The Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) predicts that the harvest of table grapes around Western Cape in South Africa will decrease by 14 per cent to 287,000 tonnes this year and next year. It’s not just the harvest that’s expected to be smaller, the size of the grape will also be smaller this year compared to last year, because of drought in the country. This decline is partially compensated by varieties in the Orange River region. Due to normal production and growing circumstances, the harvest in that area amounts to 344,000 tonnes.

The most important varieties of table grapes in South Africa are Crimson Seedless, which amounts to 24 per cent of the total harvest. Prime is 9 per cent of the harvest, Thomson Seedless has 8 per cent, Flame Seedless 7 per cent, Sugraone 6 per cent, Redglobe 6 per cent and Sugrathirteen has 5 per cent. Demand for grapes in South Africa has changed in the past decade. Consumers eat seedless grapes more, so that seeded grapes are grown less. Seedless grapes are grown more often now, according to figures from GAIN.

It is expected that the export of table grapes in 2017/18 will decrease by 15 per cent to 258,000 tonnes, from 304,000 tonnes in 2016/17. Of all grapes, 75 per cent is sent to Europe. South Africa is a strong player thanks to their large quantity of seedless grapes, but also because the country can easily trade with Europe. About 12 per cent is shipped to Asia, 6 per cent to the Middle East, and 4 per cent to Africa. The amounts sent to the US and Canada also continue to increase, although that is only 3 per cent of the total, according to documents from GAIN.

Peru: more loss due to flooding
Just like in South Africa, the Peruvian production can be divided into two regions, according to Robert. He says the north of Peru in particular suffered under climatological circumstances in the region. “The Peruvian yield is much lower than in previous years. That is due to flooding early in 2017. Many plantations were flooded. At first, the question was whether the flooding would affect the grape production in the north of Peru. Last summer it became clear that there would indeed be losses. It differs per plantation, but we’ve seen considerable losses of 20 to 70 per cent. The final loss percentage will only become clear at the end of the season.”

Chile: fewer production areas, but type of fruit most grown
Compared to 2008/09, the area of Chilean table grapes declined this year and last year. Although the production area decreased by about 10 per cent, the grape continues to be the fruit grown most in the country. Production areas in the regions of O’Higgins, Metropolitana and Coquimbo decreased in the 2003/16 period, although the amount of grapes in Atacama and Valparaiso remained roughly the same during that same period. In the O’Higgins and Metropolitana regions, walnuts, cherries, olives and pears even made room for grapes.

This year and last year, prices of grapes were low in the north of Chile, due to an early harvest at the same time as the Indian harvest. In figures, this amounts to a production of 911,000 tonnes, equal to an increase of 7.5 per cent.

More information:
Origin Fruit Direct
Robert van Melle

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