The South African stone fruit industry is persevering despite the severe drought that has plagued growing areas for the last couple of years. Last year, saw lower volumes across the board. This season, the drought continued in the Klein Karoo region, specifically from Montagu to Ladismith – with the Ladismith region experiencing dire conditions resulting in very low apricot production volumes.
“Apricot volumes were already down last year, and this year they are down even further by 30%. Some growers have very little resources and are in a difficult position after another dry winter. Unfortunately, some farms have completely gone out of business,” according to Jacques du Preez, from Hortgro.
Plums are up slightly on last year with 10% but volumes were affected by two very hot days in early September which influenced fruit set in a critical period. Overall volumes are expected to be down by between 1.2 - 1.4 million cartons compared to the potential volumes had it been a normal two years.
Nectarines and peaches have fared much better as the main growing regions are in a better production situation with adequate water resources and good growth due to new cultivars with higher yields and packouts coming into production.
“Nectarines are doing well and we expect to be 17% up on last year which is in line with initial estimates,” explained Jacques. “The harvest started a week earlier than in previous years, so volumes to date are 30% up compared to this time last year. This will however even out as we progress through the season.”
Peaches are also in line with predictions of a 5% increase compared to last year.
South Africa is also affected by power outages which can interrupt packing, but according to Jacques the outages are scheduled, and packers can work around them, but it does cause logistical problems. Prolonged rain in north of country will not affect the stone fruit production as the harvest there is all but complete.
“Despite lower volume in some of the categories, size has been average. The quality of the fruit has been good.”
The UK remains the biggest market for South African stone fruit, with Europe and the Middle East taking the remainder of the crop.