When the South African gold kiwi season started this year by 15 February, it was a month before any other producer in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Europe has been crying out for kiwifruit and struggling to find it. The heavy frosts during flowering May last year resulted in a low crop of yellow kiwis in the Northern Hemisphere this year. When South Africa started to sell this year, there really was nothing in the market which created a very good opportunity and very good prices,” says Peter Turner, who manages the Italian Soreli kiwi cultivar in South Africa.
“There are more opportunities than people think if they do their homework”
“Years ago we predicted that it would be possible for South Africa to be the earliest player in the Southern Hemisphere and this year the industry started about a month before other producers in the Southern Hemisphere.”
This has resulted in higher than usual air freight of kiwis, which have been on the market since then, as well as sea freight which takes between 14 and 30 days depending on destination (there is a lot of regional trade to places like Mauritius and Kenya).
However, he is emphatic that good returns are guaranteed only in suitable growing areas with the right cultivar, a matter on which clarity has been emerging over the past few years. “There are more opportunities than people think if they do their homework.”
Soreli kiwi orchards in Waboomskraal, southern Cape (photo supplied by Peter Turner)
“We can continue to supply golden kiwis until the end of June because of a ripening window across the country, starting in White River, Mpumalanga, in mid-February and running until the end of March in Grabouw or Waboomskraal outside George in the southern Cape, a six week difference on the same variety.”
Growers might think this is where the opportunity begins and ends for South African kiwifruit: as openers to the Southern season, but Peter disagrees.
“I think as time goes on and the industry grows and becomes more confident, it’ll be able to compete for a longer period of time. We’re able to offer a very good quality of kiwi, because we have an abundance of sunlight hours.”
Opportunities in cold storage
“The gold kiwi industry is only 150ha in size, the harvest is over in a flash and they can’t sustain return sales and no fruit are held in coldstores."
"Some varieties of golden kiwis can be kept in cold stores for five to seven months to extend the marketing season. Currently in South Africa kiwis are picked, packed and sold.”
What growers still have to perfect, he notes, is harvesting under hotter conditions than their counterparts in, say, New Zealand, but every year arrival quality improves and money has been set aside for postharvest research in collaboration between a number of exporters and the Fresh Produce Exporters' Forum (FPEF).
Peter reports that some of their Chinese agents have noted a very high demand for kiwifruit in online sales in China; kiwifruit has 2.5 times the amount of vitamin C of oranges, he notes.
As for the effect of the coronavirus on kiwi exports, he points out that the market had been so empty in any case that the strong pull from Europe would’ve existed with or without the epidemic.
Kiwi industry in consolidation phase
The industry has entered a period of consolidation in those areas where golden cultivars have shown itself to be successful. There is expansion of plantings while young orchards are coming into production, resulting in a rise in volumes year-on-year.
While potentially lucrative markets like Japan, Korea and Taiwan are not open to South African kiwis, other Far Eastern, Middle Eastern and European countries are, and there aren’t currently spare kiwifruit looking for a home.
However, exporting to new markets would be beneficial given potential volume growth and for that reason a process is underway to set up the very first South African Kiwi Growers’ Association, Peter says.
This organisation would represent the industry when talking to government, but Peter says he’d also like to see South African consumers get more value for the high prices they’re currently paying for kiwis.
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