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South African pomegranates feel the effects of drought

Markets can expect smaller counts on South African pomegranates this season, with a concomitant drop of between 20 to 25% on export volumes.
The first Acco and Herskovitz from the Western Cape have been shipped and should arrive in Europe by week 10. The Wonderful harvest is imminent for some growers whose fruit have reached the required sugar levels a bit earlier than last year. In some cases producers don’t have the water to let Wonderful hang much longer to develop skin colour.

The drought and access to irrigation water have affected the fruit count, which could peak at a count or two lower this season. “We’re seeing a huge amount of counts 14 and 16 this season. The market prefers counts of 8 to 12, so we’re putting out our feelers for markets that will take the smaller counts,” a trader tells FreshPlaza. Another exporter confirms that they will probably be sending more to the Middle East and Eastern European countries. South African pomegranates are in general smaller than Peruvian fruit, its main competitor with fresh fruit on the European market. “It’s not going to be a good season,” says Jack Wittles, chairperson of POMASA, the pomegranate industry body. 

Kobus Louw of Sapex, which handles half of South Africa’s pomegranates, notes that the internal quality of South African pomegranates is excellent. “The fruits look really good,” agrees Avril de Villiers of Star South.

The balance between class 1 exports and processing might move somewhat in the direction of the latter this season.

Pomegranates for processing go either to peeling programmes in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands as well as South African supermarkets, where arils are sold loose in punnets, or for juicing. In the Middle East and Italy on-the-spot pomegranate juicing, either at stores or street markets, is very popular. Locally, however, the price for juice pomegranates isn’t very competitive.

South African consumers want pomegranates of the same size and quality as their Northern Hemisphere counterparts and they’re prepared to dig deep to buy them, therefore local prices are able to compete with export prices. However, the local market is minuscule compared to export markets – while they send 3 to 5 pallets locally per week, at peak season they’d send 200 to 240 pallets overseas, says Kobus Louw, and that only accounts for the volumes handled by Sapex.

Traders note that current pomegranate prices in Europe and the UK are stable. Newly harvested South African pomegranates should compete strongly with stored Turkish product.

Every grower’s water situation is unique – in Oudtshoorn there’s been a bit of rain last week, while growers along the Berg River have no more access to irrigation water from the river this season, and are completely dependent on boreholes and farm dams. A trader tells of one grower who decided in November last year to rather take off all of this season’s crop, just to let the trees survive on their meagre water ration. Then there’s the issue of water quality and rising salt levels in irrigation water, a growing problem not just in the Western Cape but across the country.

The pomegranate industry is also affected by the new EU regulations regarding false codling moth (FCM). “You have to take your hat off to POMASA for the protocol they’ve developed to manage it,” says Avril de Villiers. “It’s definitely a threat but it’s being monitored really rigorously with the Phytclean data platform.”

For more information:
Jack Wittles
Tel: +27 21 870 2900

Kobus Louw
Tel: +27 21 883 8280

Avril de Villiers
Star South
Tel: +27 21 864 3655

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