South Africa: rare summer rains put damper on grape harvest

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South Africa: rare summer rains put damper on grape harvest

Unseasonal summer rains have put the harvest on hold for Western Cape fruit growers, delaying exports for table grapes and pears.rain

The downpour in the Hex River Valley region has been described as a once in a decade weather event, said Tiaan Hugo, coordinator of Southern Fruit Growers.

"This rain is very uncommon. Not even the internet could say how much it would rain. This happens one in 10 years that there are thunderstorms and cold weather in January. It doesn’t happen a lot, so they couldn’t predict if it would be light or heavy rain," Hugo told

"For some of the farmers, they tried to predict it and put plastic on vineyards but there was not time for everybody to put plastic on the grapes. They don't use plastic on the grapes in the Hex River Valley but some farmers tried to use it as a precaution for the rain."

A reported 10mm of rain fell Monday in De Doorns and an additional 25mm yesterday, according to The rain was forecast to continue through Thursday.

In January 2013, De Doorns received just 5 mm of rain in the entire month.

Hugo anticipated damage to varieties such as Flame, Starlight and Prime, as well as a drop in export volume due to quality issues.

"The rain is going to have an effect on the quality because Flame has issues with rain. It bursts quicker. There are a lot of issues that we have to deal with Monday when we start again," he said.

The rains have also forced delays in the pear harvest, scheduled to begin this week.

"It has been a rough season for weather in South Africa. It was the starting of pears as well this week and now they can’t pack those due to the rain. The season was already a week late. This week is going to push it a week more," Hugo said.

"We are going to have problems in the next two to three weeks because all of the varieties are getting riper and riper at the same time. In the next two to three weeks we are going to do a lot of varieties in a short time in the Hex River Valley."

Hugo anticipated complications with the company's programs in Europe, caused by a build-up of fruit in a short period of time.

For grapes in other growing regions of South Africa, Hugo said rains had not been an issue. Frosts earlier in the season, however, did create extensive losses.

"Because of the frosts we had in the budding and flowering seasons in the Northern Cape, there were smaller bunches and much more uneven berries in the earlier varieties like Prime and Sugraone. The sugar ratio was slow to pick up," he said.

"There’s a lot of fruit gone. On our farms, we lost 40-50% of our harvest. We lost quite a lot of boxes. We lost, I think, 150,000 cartons. It’s almost half of what we do in the Northern Cape."

Despite the adverse weather, not all reports out of Southern Africa have been negative. Hugo said the table grapes from Northern Cape have been crispy and of high quality.

For the Western Cape, he expected a strong year for Crimson grapes out of the Hex River Valley.

"Sizing is 70% extra large on Crimson. We’re expecting a big harvesting season on Crimson. Black grapes are looking good as well for Autumn Royal and Midnight. We are starting with Midnight next week," he said.

For Namibia, he said that although Red Globes struggled with coloring, the fruit experienced more consistent sizing and bigger bunches.



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