An exceptional Hass crop is maturing in the orchards around Kiepersol, and ripening tests indicate that the Hass harvest could start in approximately two weeks, says Patrick Caetano, packhouse manager at Koeltehof Packers, the largest avocado packhouse in Mpumalanga.
The packhouse started packing Carmen Hass two weeks ago, now finishing up with Fuerte and starting with Pinkerton.
“There is a very good Hass crop, an exceptionally good crop. It’s probably almost double compared to last year,” he says. “I think it’s going to be a very good season.”
He explains that the greenskin avocados went through a dry period when they were flowering. “Later rain did help them to get a size up, but they went through a dry early spring. The Hass flowered two weeks later than the greenskins, at a time when there weren’t many temperature fluctuations, keeping to around 25 to 28°C. The rain that followed really enhanced it to set well.”
Photos supplied by Koeltehof
“Younger trees and the mid-age trees of five to eight years have got nice big fruit on, while the older trees have a good crop with smaller fruit, but there’s a big demand for the smaller fruit overseas as well, exported in plastic crates. In general we’re a size to two sizes bigger than last year.”
He notes that prices for avocados are very good at the moment, especially on Hass.
Compressed harvesting season aids trees & the bottom-line
The South African avocado season is a dash to Europe before Peru starts. Over the past few years growers in this area have started compressing what used to be a six month season into a three month one, aiming to get all of the Hass off by late May or early June.
“There’s quite a bit of avos on the water but it’s not going to flood the market,” Patrick says. “We want to get in before Peru. When we start Hass, we’ll be going weekends and day and night for a six- to eight-week period where we’re going to try and pack at least 70 to 80% of the Hass crop, to get it off and in there before Peru comes in. Even if we have better quality, it still affects the pricing when Peru starts.”
The market does pick up a bit by October, he notes, but by then it’s too late for them to re-enter.
Kiepersol avocados perform better with some R&R
This approach, now followed by all of the avocado growers in the Kiepersol area for the past three or four years, has another benefit: ending their season early gives the trees a month’s rest before flowering in July. This period of rest and recovery is flattening the curve of the alternate bearing cycle, so that they now have a three-quarter crop every year, instead of the ups and downs of previous years.
Right: an excellent Hass crop on the trees
“It’s starting to take on this trend of a three-quarter crop here in the Kiepersol area, and it’s working better and better every year, especially on the Hass. The greenskins are still a bit up and down but it also responds well to getting it off by end of May, early June.”
He continues: “We’re very confident that in this way we can avoid a complete off-year, and that instead we’d have a semi-on year, every year. That’s we’re hoping to achieve. Some years prices are good but then you don’t have the volumes. What you ideally want, are the volumes to benefit from those good prices. In this way you can really take advantage of the gap South Africa has in the market.”
He notes that being in fixed programmes serviced by one of the large avocado exporters helps a grower with the tail end of their crop, ensuring a good average price even when Peru’s avocados have arrived.
Avocado returns now match or exceed mac returns
The packhouse has increased capacity of their sizers and packaging by about 20%, making longer tables to put more volumes through.
Koeltehof has two packhouses running simultaneously.
“We used to go on into August or September, we now go into June,” he says. "There’s nothing in the Kiepersol area which to pack in the packhouse during off-season; the other crop in the area are macadamias."
Patrick remarks that at the moment there are more avocados being planted than macadamias in their area.
“Your returns are much the same or better with avocados, and you’ve also got more options with avos – processing, or the local market, or the hawker trade.”