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Opening of apple season in Eastern Free State, South Africa

Apple growers in the Thabo Mofutsanyana District of the Eastern Free State of South Africa stand on the cusp of their 2017/18 apple season. Opening volumes of Royal Gala will be packed from next week, back to the normal timetable, after the previous two seasons which started as much as two weeks earlier. Their harvest precedes that of South Africa’s major apple producing areas by two to three weeks.

Cosmetically the new season’s fruit is looking good, says Hein Punt of Maluti Fruit in Bethlehem, and the past few months have again proved why hail netting is a sine qua non for fruit production in the interior of the country. “We had hail a number of times, but volumes haven’t been affected – but it just goes to show that hail netting is simply indispensable in our part of the world. I’d say 99% of apple orchards around here, certainly all commercial apple orchards in the Eastern Free State are covered.” 

He continues: “We’re expecting a good season. Apart from the hail, we experienced good climatic conditions. We’re grateful for our summer rain and we’re positive.” Maluti Fruit packs the fruit of nine apple producers from a radius of about 80km. “We’re expecting a good harvest, closer to normal volumes.”

The summer rainfall area in the interior of South Africa is not subject to the drought of the Western and Eastern Cape. The Free State’s Royal Gala harvest will run for five weeks, then followed by Top Red. Pink Lady should start at around Easter weekend.

“We export if cosmetically we meet the requirements,” he says. “Ninety percent of our volumes are exported or sent to South African supermarkets. Our marketing is handled by Fruitways. To differentiate the new harvest’s apples from the CA stock still on the shelves, and to drive volumes, our Royal Galas will carry ‘new season’ stickers on the packaging.” It has been many months since South Africans tasted a freshly picked Royal Gala.

“Roughly 10% of our apples go to the municipal markets. These markets are important, it’s where the price is discovered and it acts as a secondary export market, because many buyers from neighbouring countries buy their fruit at South African produce markets.”

Eastern Free State growers keep an eye on Cape weather, not so much for the rainfall outlook but for a drop in temperatures that enables colouring in, for instance, Pink Lady. Their Pink Lady volumes were down last year, as it was for growers in the south of the country. 

“If we have a normal summer, we’ll have normal colouring. When the cold fronts start moving up over the Western Cape, it has a tremendously positive influence on Pink Lady production, both here and, obviously, down in the Cape. We’re hoping for good frontal rain systems over the Cape early in autumn. Our Pink Lady with 40% to 50% colouring go to the UK and if our fruit obtains 60%, then we’re overjoyed,” he says.

Fuji is another cultivar which can obtain a premium in the Far East, especially if it falls in the extra fancy category with 80% colour. “In the Eastern Free State we’ve planted Fuji particularly for the tastes of consumers in the Far East. It’s a delicious apple with low acid content, very popular in the Far East.”

Yearly expansion of 10% in apple acreage in Eastern Free State
Volumes from the Eastern Free State are increasing through a 10% year-on-year growth in new plantings that exceed the replacement ratio. “The most important limit to apple expansion in our area is water availability. Maize [corn] and potatoes under irrigation are two of the crops that are being replaced with apples,” he says. “However, it’s a massive change from grain farming to fruit farming, not least because the latter is so labour-intensive. All of the apple growers in this area have received high ratings in their SIZA [Sustainable Agriculture in South Africa] audits. Social responsibility and food safety are of utmost importance to us.”

Maluti Fruit was the first packhouse in the Free State to be SIZA-accredited.

Pears are not planted commercially in the Eastern Free State because a pear tree flowers earlier than an apple, placing it at risk of early frost damage. 

“We’re eager to make a start to the new apple season.”

For more information:
Hein Punt
Maluti Fruit
Tel: +27 58 304 3367

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