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Greatly reduced flowering on litchis and mangoes because of leaf damage

Lowveld hailstorm: “We’ve pretty much lost our Valencia export crop”

The unexpected winter hail storm that hit the Mpumalanga Lowveld in May has had a severe effect on Tomahawk Farming’s farms at Jeppe’s Reef, just north of the Swaziland border.

Strangely, they experienced two hail storms in the month of May, the first damaging citrus and the second, three weeks later, completing the job on the unaffected citrus blocks, as well as bananas, papayas, vegetables as well litchis and mangoes.

“The effect of the hail was massive, we’ve pretty much lost our Valencia export crop. We expect to pack around 50,000 boxes out of about 350,000 boxes originally estimated. The bulk of the fruit was knocked off the trees from over 400ha of citrus and unfortunately the quality is affected on the remaining fruit, which means that although we’d like to send to the Far East, most of our fruit will now be marketed as class 2 fruit,” says Stuart Butcher, marketing director of Tomahawk Farming. “Even the juice volumes have been affected.”

“Fortunately we had picked around 70% of our grapefruit when the hail hit and the crop was bigger than expected, but there we estimate we’ve lost around 90,000 to 100,000 export cartons. About 100 to 120ha of bananas were also severely hit and we’ve had to cut back some of the blocks as the damage is so severe.”

Hail damage to banana blocks

But it doesn’t end there: “All of our litchis and mangoes were heavily hit. The litchis and mangoes should be in full flower now but there’s very little flowering up till now because there has been too much leaf damage.”

Tomahawk Farming is one of South Africa’s biggest litchi exporters and they had a record litchi crop last season. “Luckily we’ll have fruit coming in from our other farms which were not hit by the storm and thus the 15% of our litchi volumes that normally go to the local market, mostly through supermarket programmes, will not be affected. Export volumes will be more affected but we’ll assess the situation more closely when we see the fruit set on the trees.”

Covering their large blocks with hail netting is being considered but it is extremely expensive option and therefore highly unlikely. Stuart notes that shade netting over a 2ha trial block of litchis was shredded by the hail.

“Well, that’s farming for you,” he concludes. “You have to take the good with the bad. But to get not one but two hail storms in the month of May is seriously unusual, possibly climate change is having its effect!”

For more information:
Stuart Butcher
Tomahawk Farming
Tel: +27 13 792 4402

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