South Africa propagating cherry rootstocks to triple production
The South African cherry industry is working to significantly increase root stocks in the country, which will help triple production in the coming years.
SA Cherry Growers' Association head Koos Pretorius told www.freshfruitportal.com the lack of plant material was currently the biggest challenge for the small sector.
He said production issues around a decade ago in some regions drove many growers to switch to other crops like apples, and as a result the nurseries stopped producing rootstocks.
"When people wanted to start planting now there was no maintenance or rootstocks," he said.
"There is a very small base of which to start propagating from, there have been some inputs but with varying success."
Last year the industry's cherry production was 1,150 metric tons (MT), of which a third was exported and 5% was processed.
The fruit is currently cultivated over 230 hectares in South Africa, but Pretorius expects hundreds more hectares to be planted over the coming years as more plant material becomes available.
"There's lots of intention to plant - 500 or 600 hectares if we can get better root stock availability. That would basically triple the industry immediately there," he said.
Around 70-80 hectares of cherry trees are being planted annually at present, with at least half of the plantings to be represented by the Minnie Royal and Royal Lee varieties.
"They are early varieties, and they both perform well in the country," he said.
He noted the early harvest period that kicks off in September would give exporters a good window into Northern Hemisphere markets before large volumes arrived from Chile later in the year.
In addition, Pretorius said there was little demand for cherries in the local South African market, and so the coming years' additional volumes would likely be exported.
The weakening of the South African rand has also helped to drive fruit exports from the country, he added.
As for the cherry season this year, Pretorius said frosts and heavy rainfall had made it 'one to forget'.
"It’s not a very good season for us - there’s been lots of damage from frost in the north and the south. There’s a light crop everywhere in the country basically. And now we have continuous rains in the north," he said.
"We’ve had 5 or 6 inches of rain in one week alone, and there was also a strange spring, early summer, cool weather continuously. So it's a season to forget."
Around 80% of South African cherries are grown in the Western Cape, with the rest of the volumes coming from the Free State, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo.