South Africa expects record apple and pear harvest

South Africa expects record pome fruit harvest, but notes concern over shipping costs

South Africa's Hortgro says it is expecting a record apple and pear crop this season after “near-perfect growing conditions”.

The "exceptional" harvests come despite challenges relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and a "few tough years of drought", it said.

Additionally, the expected record volumes come in spite of the Langkloof hail which in January removed between 1.2 million and 1.5 million cartons and the strong March winds that damaged some Grabouw orchards.

Hortgro’s Trade and Markets Manager, Jacques du Preez, said South Africa anticipates 4 percent more apples to be exported, while pear exports are expected to rise by 6 percent.

According to Du Preez, the volumes and quality of the apples heading to the markets were driven by favorable weather conditions.

“We received good rainfall in the Western Cape last winter along with a cool spring and moderate summer temperatures that have overall been good for the quality of the fruit, especially color development on our apples," he said.

Young orchards coming into production, also contribute to the higher export volumes.

Covid-19 still remains a challenge for the deciduous fruit industry value chain in South Africa. Production, packhouses and marketers are all vigilant and strictly adhere to safety protocols.

“Producers follow the Covid-protocols with precision and therefore there is enough labor to get the harvest from the trees and into the packhouses. We have to congratulate our producers for managing a difficult situation very responsibly,” Du Preez said.

Consumer demand for fresh fruit is also very good despite lockdown regulations in various markets. “Covid has definitely prompted health consciousness of consumers,” Du Preez said.

Logistics challenges in South Africa's Cape Town harbor still remain. However, this mainly impacts the shipping routes to the Middle and the Far East.

“The shortage of containers is a global problem due to the high demand for dry goods/consumer goods that are mainly driven by online purchases. This has caused shipping costs for the goods to skyrocket and thus compete with refrigerated containers for space on ships,” he said.

“There are enough containers in the world, but the problem is that the containers do not make the rounds to South Africa. Chilled break-bulk ships are being looked at as alternative shipping methods, but it is difficult due to their availability as well as the cost.”

Vanguard said at the start of March that it was expecting an "excellent" but late apple and pear season.