The Western Cape town of Ceres has long been an apple and pear growing capital but, in the last decade, it has become the largest centre of cherry production with more than 274 hectares (ha) planted according to Hortgro’s 2020 deciduous industry figures.
Many folk who grew up in the Cape may remember visits to the Klondyke Cherry Farm where the public was invited to pick their own cherries and to picnic under the tall trees on a carpet of soft leaves. While not a new crop, the Western Cape and Witzenberg Properties’ Alhambra farm, in particular, is looking at a 35% increase in production this year.
According to Pieter Graaff, Managing Director of Witzenberg Properties, the 2021 cherry crop looks good at this stage. “We are now in the blossom period and it looks positive,” he says, adding that the trees have flowered well. “But,” he says, “this is also a critical period for the pollinators to do their jobs and we have beehives in the orchards to encourage this.”
While early days, Witzenberg Properties predicts 200 tons of cherries, an increase of over 50% above last year’s crop, most of which is earmarked for the South African market, sold by Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing to Food Lover’s Market, Freshmark for Shoprite and Checkers and Woolworths.
“What has changed in the last year is that more plantings on Alhambra are coming into production and we are excited about the possibility of progress. Just over 50ha of cherries are planted on Witzenberg Properties’ farms, with new plantings on Alhambra coming into fruition this season.
At Alhambra plantings are made up of 7.7ha Brooks, 11.92ha Royal Dawn, 2.13ha Royal Lee, 3.16 ha Sequoia and 3.67ha Sweet Heart.
Witzenberg Properties says that cherries will be picked from the last week of November to the last week of December in time for the festive season.
“If the cold chain is kept intact, cherries can last very well in the fridge. I’ve enjoyed cherries a month after putting them in the fridge - if I can manage not to eat them all,” says Graaff.
According to Hortgro, South African cherry plantings comprise 520ha but, while exports have dropped in volume since the 2015/2016 high, the average price has continued to climb to just under R180, 000 per ton.
While Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing is the largest exporter of South African apples and pears, Managing Director, Roelf Pienaar, says that the cherry crop is an important part of Tru-Cape’s local-market business especially as it comes at the tail of the apple and pear marketing season and before the new crop. “We are always excited about the cherry crop from Witzenberg Properties and confident we will continue to add value to beautiful fruit,” Pienaar ends.