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Size, colour and eating quality of peaches and nectarines are excellent: Jacques du Preez, Hortgro

South African stonefruit quality is unaffected by drought

Given the challenges of the season, things are in actual fact looking pretty good, says Jacques du Preez, general manager for trade and markets at Hortgro. On both peaches and nectarines the size, colour and eating quality are exemplary this year.

The weather has even brought some advantages. “We’re off to a late start, about 7 to 10 days late, but it’s been a good start as we’re entering a fairly empty market. The heat came a bit later, and coupled with some rain in-between which has allowed growers to only start their irrigation a week or two ago,” he says. Normally the soil in the Cape remains moist well into springtime after winter rains, and the late rains of this season have won growers around three weeks’ grace which will be invaluable later in the hot and dry summer.

Crop estimates remain mostly unchanged: a decrease of 3% in nectarine volumes, a drop of 4% for peaches. South Africa has long had a strong domestic market for nectarines, which also earn, both locally and overseas, more than peaches. On the other hand, the yield on a peach orchard is higher and input costs lower. “For the moment back on the farm that sum still works out,” Du Preez says, “but regarding peaches world markets are more under pressure than is the case for nectarines, as a result of a combination of factors: competition from other fruit but also competition from nectarines.”

Also, European consumers like flat peaches, which South Africa can produce but its shape and specific characteristics are currently still a challenge when it comes to shipping and the cold chain. “The industry programme to develop flat peach cultivars is only in its initial phase but there are a number of private initiatives, many growers are trialling it. We’ll get there eventually.”

The South African plum season has just started. He doesn’t consider it to be a light year; it’s just 5% down from last year. “What now happened with the drought is that growers thinned out very intensively and rigorously. We started with some smaller plums but size has started picking up. As a result of the thinning out the guys are seeing the results: thinning out means larger fruit which means more cartons. In general, it’s actually going to be a fine plum season.”

South Africa’s increasingly abbreviated apricot season is already nearing its end, down 16% from last year because of size, because there are barely any new apricot orchards and because, additionally, apricots are in the off phase of their bearing cycle.

“The real problem is our lack of new cultivars. We can’t compete with the bright orange-red apricots from Turkey who, because of their proximity to the market, can let their fruit develop colour on the tree. With the much longer transit time we struggle at the moment to tree ripen our fruit to that stage and still deliver it in an acceptable condition.”

Hortgro has embarked on a project of ripening and colouring up apricots in Europe, on a somewhat bigger scale this year than last year’s trial that was a technical, if not a complete commercial, success. South African apricots go mostly to the Middle East, followed by the UK and then the EU. 

Most peaches and nectarines go to the UK and the EU, as well as to the Middle East. Long shipping routes deter substantial nectarine and peach trade with the Far East, and it’s not currently a big market for South Africa, apart from plums, but one that Hortgro hopes to develop in future. 

For more information:
Jacques du Preez
Tel: +27 21 870 2900

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