South Africa's cold winter delays new tomato crop

Across the country tomato growers were reporting one of the coldest winters in a while, which slowed down ripening and colouring and everywhere delayed the new crop by about two weeks.

This led to lower than expected volumes at the market, leading some agricultural economists to predict a price spike.

Currently the tomato price is favourable: R7.42 (0.39 euros) per kilogram but not close to its recent high: at the start of the Covid lockdown it passed R10 (0.52 euros) a kilogram.

A tomato specialist at a seed company is not convinced that tomatoes are heading for a price spike. 

"As soon as large volumes come in producers start channeling their tomatoes between the markets, if they see prices are good at one market, so that a price spike will last only two or three days at a particular market before the price is brought down by the arrival of more volumes."

There is no shortage of tomatoes at the moment, he says, nor has he seen a general reduction in fruit sizes due to the winter. In fact, he says, early production tomatoes are usually larger than later in the season.

Cold winter relieves whitefly pressure
A positive from the cold winter, he says, is the dramatic reduction in the incidence of whitefly.

Whereas growers usually spray once or twice a week against whitefly this time of the year, at the moment that the whitefly life cycle is longer and has spraying only been necessary around once in two weeks.

Tomatoes are currently coming in from Komatipoort and Limpopo, as well as from Brits in the Northwest, while in East London tomatoes are produced year-round all in tunnels, unique in South Africa.

Western Cape tomato growers are now planting.


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