For the first time ever grape growers were limited in their deliveries to cold stores as the facilities ran full of not only grapes, but also stonefruit, apples, pears, the first avocados, pomegranates and passionfruit. Not enough vessels, not enough containers, compounded by wind and fog and operational constraints: a perfect storm for South Africa’s shipping this season.
“We’re loading 40% of the fruit we usually do,” Anton Viljoen, director at Hexkoel and chairperson of the South African Table Grape industry, says. In cold stores across the Western Cape grapes have moved slowly as a result of lack of containers to load them into; particularly steri market grapes have been taking up a lot of space.
In the Eastern Cape there are citrus cold stores full of Langkloof apples and pears; there has been road transport of Cape fruit like stonefruit, apples and pears to Port Elizabeth and Durban to make it to the Far East.
Cold stores have to share a limited number of containers from the shipping lines among themselves.
Record intakes at cold stores & movement starts recovering
Hexkoel, major cold store in the Hex River Valley, over recent weeks experienced record daily and weekly intakes while the lack of available equipment and shipping disruptions resulted in almost 8,500 pallets on temperature rolling over at the end of week 8.
Fruit movement came to a standstill at the cold store, but yesterday and today volumes for all markets were again loaded, creating space within the cold store and Hexkoel will be re-opening tomorrow.
Hexkoel precooling, storage and dispatch facility in the Hex River Valley handles around 15 million cartons of grapes a year (photo: Hexkoel)
Anton Viljoen notes that more volumes for markets other than the traditional market of the EU have been packed this year; good opportunities arose in the USA as a result of Chile’s rain damage.
Cape Fruit Coolers, independent facilities in Killarney and in Richmond Park, have been able to load out some fruit over the past few days, says managing director Steve Oosthuizen, but “our facilities are still 85% full and we’re not able to take all deliveries, so we’ve given producers a quota, just to service everyone.”
He adds: “I can’t remember a situation where producers were put on a quota, but we’ve had no choice.”
Photo supplied by Cape Fruit Coolers
The different temperatures at which different commodities are kept – for instance 0°C for grapes, but 6°C for avocados – reduce optimal space utilisation. Extra grape pallets can’t, for instance, be stored in the unused space in the avocado room. “At the end of the day you’re using perhaps 80% of your pallet positions but actually you’re full,” Steve explains.
He notes that there are grapes for some steri markets that haven’t moved from the cold store for two weeks.
Impact of this week’s rain still unknown
The rain earlier this week (between 20mm to 85mm of rain fell in varying localities in the Hex River Valley; too soon to say what the impact was) has created some breathing space in the cold stores.
Cold store intake limits have meant that farmers were unable to take off as much of the crop as possible ahead of the predicted rain.
“This has been an extremely difficult situation for grape growers,” Steve notes. ”It’s been really tough.”
More rain might come early next week, which could postpone continuation of Crimson and Scarlotta harvesting by a few more days. Fortunately Crimson is a strong variety, Anton says.
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