A summary of some of the stories recently published internationally featuring South Africa’s fresh produce business

South Africans establish ‘Fruit Desk’ to deal with high level issues

Recent international and local developments in South Africa will bring new challenges. That is why the South African fresh produce industry has introduced a special desk to assist and advise it on policy development, keeping track of trade issues and representing it at forums where the industry bodies cannot adequately cover events.

Pealing away produce industry challenges

The fresh produce world is becoming more complex. Political developments in and outside our country require a wider field of involvement than in the past. The fruit industries also need to sharpen their lobbying to try and influence decisions where it concerns the future of the fresh produce business. A good exampleis the recent land debates in South Africa. This is likely to be the subject of much conflict between the agricultural sector and the government over the next few years. If not resolved, combined with the uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations between the EU and Britain, this may cause uncertainty which will harm the sector. Brexit affects South Africa’s oldest and very important fresh produce markets. It can have a major effect on the trade with the UK and Europe as we know it today.

The fruit desk has been established under the umbrella of Fruit South Africa in the organisation Agbiz. Agbiz is the commercial name of the Agricultural Business Chamber. The industries will fund the post through Fruit South Africa. While the post will be under administrative control of Agbiz, the industry says it will very much determine the agenda.

South African fresh fruit sector developing into world ethical trade leadership

The organisation which is guiding ethical trading principles and initiatives in South Africa, SIZA, is leaving its firm tracks all over the South African industry. This is propelling the South African fresh produce industry into world-leadership.

Taste the best from South Africa

For more than four decades South African fruit growers have been under intense scrutiny as far as ethical trading, labour and social conditions are concerned. This is more so than is the case of any other exporting country. It is the result of South Africa’s own painful history of political systems. These problems are today, 25 years since the founding of the new democracy, still not resolved. It is having an effect on how the fresh fruit industry is viewed both externally and internally.

The exciting news about this scrutiny is the fact that over the years the South African industry has developed a sustainable ethical trade system which is rapidly growing in importance. It is clearly not matched elsewhere in the world and places the industry in a unique position to contribute both within and outside South Africa.

“The Sustainable Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) has grown exponentially over the past couple of years,” says Retha Louw, CEO of SIZA. “Not only has our membership more than doubled over the past three years, but the SIZA programme has rolled out several additions to our programme. An example is the Beyond Audit programme which allows our members to showcase best practices on farms that move beyond compliance.”

SIZA is designed to not only serve the fresh fruit sector, but is increasingly expanding throughout agriculture in general. However, the fresh fruit sector has been the driver behind this development and still provides around 80% of membership.

Protectionism will not save less favoured varieties

South Africans say protectionism is not the solution for Spanish early season citrus woes. They reacted to unhappiness about early season prices in Europe at the start of Spanish season.  Spain is blaming South Africans for the decline in prices.

There is more to this move than meets they eye. Spanish producers have been leading the campaign against the background of the citrus black spot (CBS) issue – trying to get the EU to impose tough measures against South Africa. The growth in the volume of late Mandarins in South Africa is another bone of contention. The fruit is marketed late in the South African season when the first Spanish citrus appear on the market.

A fractured Union of States

South African sources say Spanish producers should take a different look at their present early season marketing problems. Rather than seeking intervention and protectionism, they should get rid of less favoured varieties which consumers simply do not want anymore.

“Same old news – most people ignore it now,” says Justin Chatwick of the South African Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA). “The truth is that later mandarins are replacing less favoured Satsuma and Clementine varieties. It is happening to the Spanish producers at the beginning of their season and it is happening to South Africa at the beginning of our season.”

High hopes for growth in Namibian grapes dashed

Namibian table grape exports were affected by setback during flowering. Although the harvest is completed, final figures have not yet been released.

The Goodness of the Grapes

Namibian table grape growers have accepted that the new season will not fulfil all the expectations of significant further growth. The total exports is likely to be down by about half a million cartons due to unfavourable conditions in the early development of the grapes. The total crop is now forecasted at around 6,5 million cartons instead of the early prediction of 7,2 million cartons. Cold weather in the early development stage affected the crop, says industry sources.

Namibia, however, still has potential to be a major force in the early Southern African season. If all goes well Namibia could export 10 million cartons in a few years time.

No fireworks expected but a good steady crop for South African apples and pears.

The early forecast for South African apples and pears combined will see a modest 3% increase on last year’s drought affected crop. While apples is expected to grow by 5% compared with last year, the pear crop is expected to come in on more or less the same level as last year. If this forecast during the first few weeks of the harvest materialises, South Africa could export more than 50 million cartons of apples and pears again for the first time since 2017.

South African Fuji apples

Hortgro says good rains during the winter of 2018 brought relief to many pome fruit growers. “Although the drought has not been completely broken, growers are in a much better position compared with last year,” according to the Hortgro statement.

The 2019 crop will see an increase in specific volumes, according to Hortgro. “This is due to young orchards coming into production, which also made a big difference in the 2018 harvest.”

The first fruit of the season has been shipped and will be in the market in around a week’s time.

South African stone fruit harvest improves as mid-season arrives

Crops improves for South African stonefruit in the mid- to late-season.

South African stonefruit growers are justified in feeling somewhat disheartened after the completion of the early season. In general, volumes packed for export were down in double digit figures during the early season.

South African plums

However, now that the mid-season varieties are ripening, their fortunes have changed. It is generally expected that the mid- to late season varieties of the two major categories – plums and nectarines – will be much closer to the forecast.

According to Hortgro figures the early season plum shipments were 14% down compared to last season. The mid-season varieties will be much closer to the mark, only 1% less than last year’s final mid-season shipments. The early season nectarines were 13% down on last year. However, with the improvement expected in the mid- and late-season total shipments will only be 2% down on last year. The apricot harvest was disappointing. Most apricots are grown in the Karoo where growers still suffer because of the drought.

In general terms, and as far as the availability of water is concerned, the South African stone fruit growers are in a much better situation than at the same time last year. This is reflected by the improvement in the mid- to late-season crops.

January crop prediction for South African table grapes show no change

SATI sticks to export estimate amidst difficult trading conditions.

Red and white seedless table grapes

Glorious grapes

South Africa’s table grape forecast remains unchanged despite the export programme running somewhat behind schedule due to a late start to harvesting. The South African Table Grape Industry (SATI) says it has kept its first export estimate unchanged. The total crop is estimated to be between 63,2 and 70,1 million cartons (4.5 kg equivalent).

But this does not tell the full story. It is turning out to be a very difficult season as far as market conditions are concerned. The South Africans have an excellent harvest in most of its regions The quality of the grapes is reported to be exceptional due to very favourable harvesting conditions.

In the most important marketing region for South African grapes, namely the United Kingdom and Europe, conditions are tough. The effect of the Trump trade war with China has destabilized normal trade conditions because of its effect on Californian exports. The oversupplied US market has caused a ripple effect – with Peru and Chile unable to ship to the US. Increased volumes of their grapes ended up in Europe.

“It is one of those seasons where conditions outside our control will affect the outcome for our growers,” says Willem Bestbier, CEO of SATI.