Growers are in the midst of harvesting apples and pears in South Africa. This includes harvesting in Elgin, Grabouw, Vyeboom, Villierdorp (EGVV), the Ceres Valley, and some smaller regions like the Langkloof in the Eastern Cape area.
Apple Crop Update
The weather in all producing areas has been favorable for apple harvest so far this season. Therefore, both EGVV and Ceres regions have completed harvest on Panorama Golden variety. They already started harvest on Gala, Royal Beaut, and Flash Gala varieties. All of these varieties have better blush red color than last season, with quality and quantity at a high. Golden Delicious has also started harvest and quantities are expected to be up by 2%, Royal Gala up by 5%, Granny Smith up by 1%, and Fuji up by 8%. These 4 varieties make up 24.8 million or 69% of the estimated 35.7 million carton crop for 2020.
In March, we will see varieties like Fuji, Mohana Red, Braeburn, and Top Red joining the list for harvested fruit. Granny Smith will most likely be picked at the end of March or beginning of April, followed by Pink Lady. All varieties are looking to produce high quality fruit with excellent crunchy condition.
Pear Crop Update
Pears are having a slightly less positive season with an overall 3% decline in comparison to 2019. This is mostly due to smaller fruit sizes for William Bon Chrétien variety. Abate Fetel variety will also see a decrease of 28%. The latter will be fully harvested in about a week’s time and represents about 7.5% of the crop estimate. Luckily, the Packhams Triumph variety is currently being harvested and has had a good season so far. Packhams are peaking on smaller sizes, but there will be more availability. It is the only variety where growth is expected this season.
When comparing to 2019, Packhams Truimph will be up by 4%, Forelle steady at 0%, Williams Bon Chrétien will be down 8%,and Vermont Beauty 5% less. These 4 varieties account for 78% of the pear crop estimate.
Also being harvested at full speed are the Rosemary, Forelle, and Sempre varieties. Rosemary is expected to see quantities increase by 15%. This is due to better color development. Sempre is expected to see a quantities decrease of 12%.
Overall Quantities and Conditions
The hail that fell over parts of EGVV and Ceres earlier this year had minimal impact on crop quantity estimates. Recent publications by HORTGRO show inspected figures for South Africa with volumes of apples and pears over 3.6mm cartons and 5.0mm cartons respectively. This is about on par with what’s been produced in the past two years, with pears lagging a bit behind in quantity. Strong winds in Cape Town have negatively impacted docking and loading of ships.Vessels have been wind bound and not able to berth or depart on time. We expect export figures to show this as we go forward. For now, the loading is commencing as normal and harbors are making up for lost time.
Overall, it looks to be an above-average year for volumes of apples out of South Africa, and slightly less so for pears.
The crop estimate is looking favorable when taking into consideration the previous years of drought complications along with replanting old orchards. We are also seeing new regions in the Free State starting to increase apple production due to varieties that need fewer cold units to color. This will play a bigger role in future years as plantings increase in these regions. Growers in South Africa are optimistic about what’s to come in 2020, expecting superior eating quality, along with better shelf life.
How the Coronavirus is impacting exports
Although there is a lot of positivity surrounding freshly harvested apples and pears, there are still serious challenges. The biggest being that of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that has created an unpredictable market. As the virus spreads we can expect more countries to close their borders as they try to either prevent the influx of the virus, or to prevent further spreading. This has had a significant influence on where fruit is transported and may limit export destinations. As well, China manufacturers the larger portion of packaging materials that South Africa uses to package its grapes, apples, pears, citrus, and more. If the supply of these packaging materials from China is delayed for another month or two it will create even more challenges for South African fruit industry, and costs will go up as packers search for new supply sources.
The South African export industry has put in a lot of effort to re-open pear exports to China. Unfortunately this has been put on hold due to the Coronavirus limiting travel of officials on both sides. Discussions will continue once it is safe to start traveling again.
The quick and vicious spread of this virus in Italy and Iran are also posing safety concerns. It will be of pertinent discussion in the months ahead of how long this virus will continue to spread and create these challenges. For now, South Africa and its direct neighbours are still Coronavirus free.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of our business partners and teammates during this difficult time.