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Excellent tomato production conditions unfortunately meet poor market

Difficult tomato market in South Africa

Excellent growing conditions for tomatoes in the north of the country – hot and dry conditions, with adequate soil moisture – are unfortunately not matched by consumer appetite at the moment.

“The sluggish consumer demand holds for all vegetables, but it feels like it particularly affects tomatoes,” a trader at the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market tells FreshPlaza. “There’s an overabundance of tomatoes at the moment but they’re moving very slowly and in these high temperatures they ripen very quickly, reducing shelf life. I definitely think there are higher volumes than last year this time.”

A week ago it was a “nightmare” at the Johannesburg market, another trader says. “Stock started going bad, we had to get rid of a lot of our stock. Since then prices have picked up but we got large volumes again this morning, which pushed prices down again a bit.”

Clive Garrett, marketing manager of South Africa’s most famous tomato producer ZZ2, agrees that it is a difficult market at the moment. “Due to favourable climatic conditions there’s been overproduction coupled with muted demand, which we always expect this time of the year as people are returning from holiday. We expect things will improve when the schools re-open.”

Cape tomato production down due to drought
At the Cape Town market it looks a bit different, due to the drought in the Western Cape. “There’s not really an oversupply of tomatoes, it’s rather a question of weak demand which is very normal for January. In my twenty years in this industry this is what January looks like.”

Cape Town’s tomatoes are grown in the Eastern Cape as well as in the Western Cape in the Olifants River area and Robertson, areas where tomato production has been markedly reduced by the drought. Their supply is supplemented by Limpopo tomatoes which are sold country-wide.

Whether there is overproduction or not, all agree that tomato prices are poor, anything from R2 (0.13 euro) to R6 (0.4 euro) per kg, depending on quality, or R15 to R20 (1 euro - 1.3 euro) for a 6kg carton of ripe tomatoes and R20 to R30 (1.3 euro to 2 euro) for a 6kg carton of firm, greenish tomatoes.

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