Quality keeps pace with volumes and signs for next year’s follow-on crop look positive

South Africa: Strong avocado season surpasses early estimates

“Even farmers themselves underestimated how strong the avocado season would be,” an avocado extension officer says. “They underestimated the volumes by about 30%. In fact, there is so much fruit that in some of the low-lying, colder areas where Hass can suffer cold damage it was difficult to get everything off by the first of June.”

On some farms the harvesting of Fuerte was paused to focus on harvesting the higher-value Hass first before the cold of winter.

The reason for the explosion in volumes is not only that the orchards are in the upward curve of the bearing cycle, but also because the past summer was milder than last summer, both temperature-wise and rainfall-wise, resulting in a lower incidence of physiological fruit drop.

“The tree does an ‘audit’ of its environment and resources early in the season and determines how many fruit it’ll be able to take to maturity. In challenging years a tree may discard half of its fruits before January."

"However, when circumstances are as favourable as it was during the past season, it will retain nearly all its fruit and that’s the reason why this season’s crop is so extraordinary,” he continues.

Moreover, signs for next season’s crop are positive, judging by current bud development of next year’s flowers. 

Thrips from macadamia orchards only quality defect
Internal and external quality is keeping track, making this a good year indeed. 

The only quality problems reported are thrips damage to avocados in the Levubu area, a spillover from macadamia orchards, it seems, and exacerbated by drought stress after the 2015/16 drought as well as a depletion of the trees’ energy reserves in an ‘on’ year. It is a known tendency of insects to prey on plants that are subjected to any forms of stress.

This affects about a third of greenskin avocados in some blocks in this area, causing cosmetic damage (a rough skin) but not affecting the pulp. Such fruit, if mildly affected, go to the local market, or if damage is more severe, to the bulk market and processing. 

European market under pressure
Athol Currie, chairperson of the South African Avocado Growers’ Association, agrees. “We probably did underestimate the size of the crop at the start of the season. It will reach around 18 million export cartons and the effect of new plantings is also kicking in strongly this season.”

“There is a bit of pressure on the European market with all of the avocados this season, and that just shows that we really need to work on opening new markets,” he continues.

The South African industry is hard at work at opening up the US market for South African avocados where a reciprocal trade deal could be on the cards. Exporting to China, India and Japan are also on the agenda.

Unlike for South Africa’s other strong commodities like apples or citrus, Africa doesn’t offer many opportunities for South African avocados. In East Africa, countries like Kenya and Tanzania have avocado export industries themselves, while in the rest of tropical and subtropical Africa countries are largely self-sufficient in avocados.

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