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Jacques Beukes, Modderdrift

Hex River grape producers in a hurry as power cuts resume

Sporadic rain over the Cape coast during December thankfully gave the Hex River Valley a miss and fruit is looking very good, says Jacques Beukes of Modderdrift near De Doorns, where the table grape season has recently kicked off and will be entering its peak during the coming weeks.

“We have a handsome crop on the vine, we just have to get it into the box,” he says.

“At Modderdrift we have packed around 12% of our grapes so far this season. The one hurdle we have to overcome this year is the economic insecurity worldwide, for instance what’s happening between Iran and the United States. If that escalates it would definitely have an impact."

"A lot of our fruit goes to the UK and that market could be complicated by the Iran-Trump situation, as well as of course Brexit towards the end of the month. Brexit hangs like a sword over our heads, but what the impact is going to be, we don’t know yet, but my gut feeling is that it could have a negative impact on the exchange rate.”

Potential for risk posed by unreliable power supply
The other negative is Eskom, the national electricity provider, creating a lot of uncertainty and potential for risk, for instance if growers harvesting their fruit perhaps won’t be able to pack that fruit or won’t be able to irrigate because pumps can’t be switched on, with the result that fruit could become soft on the vine, Jacques cautions.

He emphasises that this is not the current situation, but it is the danger that the fruit industry has identified if producers can’t irrigate due to power interruptions.

“If Eskom could only play open cards with us, we could take precautions but if they can’t do that, the damage will be even bigger than it is at the moment. If Eskom could tell us straight: take precautions, power supply will be unstable for the coming month, then producers can plan ahead with, for instance, changes to irrigation scheduling.”

Many farms have multiple boreholes with irrigation pumps, Jacques notes, so generators for every pump on a farm would be an impossible expenditure. He adds that there are areas in the Hex River Valley with very low water tables affecting borehole strength, but it’s not the overall picture.

During the holidays there weren’t power interruptions but it restarted last week. “There’s huge concern about the situation at Eskom. Our season started early, which we absolutely welcome, because the sooner we can get this harvest into the box, the quicker we’re out of the risk zone. There will still, however, be other sectors that remain directly exposed to Eskom.”

Modderdrift supplies many UK retailers. Tawny Seedless and Starlight Seedless have finished, now it’s the time for Sable Seedless, Midnight Beauty and Joy Bells. Next week they hope to be starting on Sweet Globe.

Modderdrift Sweet Globe (all photos supplied by Modderdrift Boerdery)

Joy Bells, the recent South African-bred variety, fills a slot when there aren’t other red seedless available. “It’s a very new variety, it hasn’t yet had time to prove itself, but we took the decision to plant it because of the slot that it fills. Over the long term we’ll be able to evaluate the variety.”

Cape Town’s famous southeastern wind has caused some vessel delays because container loading is affected, a usual occurrence this time of the year.

“If we put the negatives aside, there’s actually a lot to be grateful for. There’s a good, average crop hanging, we just have to get it into the box.”

For more information:

Jacques Beukes
Modderdrift Boerdery
Tel: +27 23 354 8740

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