Apricots and peaches are both now in their peak volume weeks, with nectarine exports also building, according to Hortgro general manager for trade and markets, Jacques du Preez.
Du Preez explained that the combination of a slightly later South African stonefruit crop, lower early season volumes for some varieties, and a shorter Italian plum crop are resulting in positive conditions for exporters.
"What we’ve heard is that the Italian Angelinas will finish earlier," he said.
"We are starting off with lower volumes and also slightly later, so we foresee going into a relatively empty market up to January. There won’t be any oversupply of stonefruit, specifically in the European market, which is of course our biggest market."
He noted that a shorter Italian plum crop could benefit the whole South African stonefruit category in Europe.
Larger volumes are expected to build from January onwards, and du Preez was hopeful that the pace of sales would be able to maintain the momentum.
The latest export estimate for the 2018-19 season is for an 11% year-on-year drop for apricots, a 3% decline for peaches, and a 3% increase for both nectarines and plums.
The plum figure was revised downward as a result of damage to some early varieties from a heatwave a few weeks ago, du Preez said, noting such high temperatures were unusual for that time of year. There have also been some effects on the peach crop, but to a lesser extent.
The significant decline in apricots is partly attributed to the decline in the planted orchard area that has been taking place over recent years, as well as the extended drought conditions still present in some growing areas.
"On the other fruit types there’s a relatively healthy portion of the orchards that are in the four to 10-year category. So they are still yielding higher yields every year which also increased the volume," he said.
Overall, he said the season would be a "mixed bag" in terms of production and packouts, with yields varying greatly from farm to farm, but he noted that growers have benefitted from good rains over recent months.
"In the Klein Karoo region, which is the biggest production area for plums and apricots, certain parts of it are fine, but if you go towards the northeastern part, many of those growers are still in trouble," he said.
"But generally speaking, if you look at the total industry, the water situation is much better."