The resilience of subtropical fruit producers

The 2023 edition of the Subtrop marketing symposium took place in White River last week, attended by a representative mixture of growers, technical experts and traders.

Right: a turn with Westfalia's virtual reality headset was in great demand among symposium goers

The Lowveld has had unusually good (180mm since the start of October in some parts) and early rain.

At this time of the year the avocado season has mostly run its course in the Lowveld (some late avocados still), while the first mangoes and litchis are being harvested.

View the Subtrop Symposium Photo Report

Fifty to sixty percent of South Africa's avocado production is exported. Exports have risen by 40% over the past two decades, two-thirds to The Netherlands, followed by Ukraine and Russia in 2022.

Avocados have over the years been most vulnerable to El Niño, Standard Bank economist Emile du Plessis told attendees. "Fortunately this year we do expect above average rainfall."

Jeanette Myburgh of The Fruit Farm Group South Africa, Esmarie Verwey of Sunreaped and Shana Evens, also of TFFGSA.

He expects a similar growth performance in Mpumalanga and Limpopo as last year, slightly above the inflation rate at 0.3 to 0.8%.

"But generally if you look at agriculture produced in these two provinces it has more than doubled over the past two decades and in the case of Limpopo, it has quadrupled in terms of the value added by agriculture."

Subtropical fruit-producing regions continue to be really resilient, he said, and really stable in the long run.

He remarked that there is economic recovery post-Covid and that loadshedding was "under control" (but it comes at a huge cost to the residents of Bronkhorstspruit who have the misfortune to live next to the country's newest coal power station where air pollution controls have been waived).

GDP growth of around 1.4% is expected for next year.

View the Subtrop Symposium Photo Report

Value of remote sensing
Andrew Robson and Moshiur Rahman from the Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre at the University of New England (in Australia) gave a presentation on how freely available satellite imagery and digitized data are aiding farmers to make crop estimates.

It is widely used in Australia on all COSTA's avocado and citrus farms, amongst others, while the entire South African macadamia industry is on board.

The Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre received the Earth Observation Australian 2022 award; the year before their dashboard was named best in the world at a California remote sensing conference.

The imagery can potentially be updated every five days to give a real-time record of the health of the crop while forecasting yield.

Remote sensing helps growers understand the area of production helps with traceability, disaster response and crop forecasting.

View the Subtrop Symposium Photo Report

"Varroa mite is moving through Australia at the moment," explained Robson, director of the Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC), "the mite that kills honeybees. Different departments in Australia are developing exclusion zones to stop the movement of the hives to certain areas. We can overlay that straight away with the location of the orchards and give an immediate impact on hectares of avocados or tree nuts affected by these exclusion zones."

Every ten minutes they overlay weather information every ten minutes over orchards, also a tool to measure the possible impact of fire. It helps a grower to quantify and demonstrate the extent of damage for insurance purposes.

Mango grower course
The symposium was also an occasion for Wynand Espach of Agricolleges to unveil a new mango production course for which content is being developed by two experts in the South African mango industry, Jaco Fivaz and Johann du Preez.

Agricolleges, whose alumni hail from 42 countries, has a 95% completion rate, he said, and 90% of their graduates have found employment in agriculture.

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