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Butternuts from South Africa complement Europe's stock during Northern winter

Befresh is a young company exporting butternuts during the first half of the year to the UK, EU, Middle East and, in three weeks’ time, to Canada too. Last year a small amount was also sent to the Far East.

Freshly harvested South African butternut squash competes with European-grown product, picked during the Northern autumn, for the first few months of the year. “The local squash from Spain and Portugal are cheaper than our squash, but our squash is marketed purely on quality. The freshness of our product counts in our favour,” says Erik de Wet, general manager of Befresh. Around forty per cent of their butternut is grown by Bernard Conradie, De Wet’s partner in the company, who grows the squash on his farm near Piketberg, Western Cape.

Befresh exports butternut squash until June, when the European harvest starts again. Last year 105 containers were sent out, this year they’re aiming at 200 containers but getting enough volume together in a drought season is a bit difficult, and they’ve had to widen their net to Northern Cape producers too. 

The butternut is sent to wholesalers who repack the squash, during which process the stems can also be checked for mould. Class 1 butternuts are exported, from small (600 to 900g) to extra large (1,500g to 1,800g) and jumbo (1,800g+). The extra large and jumbo sizes are exported in 600kg bulk bins, mostly to the UK for the processing sector, while the smaller squash go to the EU and the Middle East in 10kg cartons.

“It’s a high-volume game,” says Erik. “The price is very dependent on the exchange rate, which is why we fix forward exchange contracts for at least half of our harvest. With the Rand as it is at the moment, we can just cover overhead costs.”

The Befresh packhouse in Klapmuts

At the moment the butternut squash is shipped at 11°C but they’re looking at perhaps taking that a bit lower, while still preserving internal quality.

Very few growers specialise in butternut squash but many grow it as a cash crop. This year there are fewer hectares under butternut in the Cape, not just because of the water shortage but also because of concerns over water quality and the build up of salt levels in irrigation water.

For more information:
Erik de Wet
Tel: +27 21 001 3107

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