South African avocado access for U.S., Japan 'not too far off'
Exports are expected to be down year-on-year for South Africa's avocado season which is drawing to a close, but the industry is full of optimism as new plantings go in the ground and new market openings approach.
South African Avocado Growers' Association CEO Derek Donkin told www.freshfruitportal the country was on track to ship 12.5 million 4-kilogram-equivalent cartons this year, over 15 million last year, but he explained this decline had been anticipated.
"Last year was our biggest crop ever in terms of export, and we did expect this year would be down because it's an off-year," he said.
"Off-years can see a reduction of up to 20% or more, so we were quite happy with the 12.5-million-carton crop, which is about 18% down."
The representative added there was steady rate of new plantings, with at least 500 hectares of commercial orchards being added to the current base of 15,500 hectares each year.
He said plantings had been going in at this level for around three years now and believed the rate may increase in the near future.
"Our nurseries are expanding production and a couple of new nurseries have come into production as well, so there is great demand for trees in our industry," he said.
"I think people would be planting at a greater rate if more trees were available from the nurseries. It generally shows an optimism in the industry."
Around 95% of export volumes are destined for Europe, with smaller quantities shipped to other African countries, the Middle East, and Hong Kong.
While Donkin said he was not involved directly with trade, it was his understanding exporters had enjoyed a strong season in Europe.
In terms of markets the industry would like to open up in the future, the representative highlighted the U.S., Japan, and China as the big three.
Executives representing major avocado companies in the U.S. and South Africa announced during the Fruit Logistica in Berlin this year the establishment of the U.S.-South Africa Avocado Committee (USSAAC), whose primary purpose will be to gain market access.
"It's difficult to say what the timeframe might be for these markets, but we're very optimistic," Donkin said.
"We think that within two years we will be into the United States and also into Japan, while China might take a bit longer than that. So we’re not too far off."
The Hass variety typically represents between 60-65% of exports, with the remainder made up of green-skinned cultivars Fuerte, Pinkerton, and Ryan.
Donkin also said a relatively new South African variety called Maluma had seen substantial sales over the last year or two, and so he expected the industry would see higher volumes in the future.
The Maluma is similar to the Hass variety but slightly larger, with a rough skin that turns dark when the fruit is ripe.
The new plantings and varietal diversification means the industry may soon achieve a year-round supply, according to Donkin.
"We currently have a long season going from March to the end of October because we have different production regions varying in altitude, so the higher areas can pick later, and varying in latitude, as well as early and late cultivars," he said.
"So with all those factors taken into account you can spread a long export season, and there is also fruit that is picked into November and December in South Africa for our domestic market, which also has strong demand.
"Quite a lot of new plantings are aimed at the domestic market in the off-season. In the next few years we expect that there will be a year-round supply from our various regions."
However, he highlighted while export windows may increase in the future, it was unlikely fruit would be exported 12-months a year, given the strength of domestic market prices during the off-season and the heavy competition there would be in Europe from the likes of Israel, Chile and Spain.