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Strong Winds Have Modest Impact on South Africa’s Apple Production

May 09, 2024

South Africa is an important supplier of apples and pears to China. Export statistics from Hortgro, the South African deciduous fruit producers association, show that the country’s apple exports to China have declined this year owing to various factors, whereas pear exports have performed well. As of week 16 of 2024, South Africa’s pear exports to China had amounted to 120,000 cartons, representing a year-on-year increase of 5%. Cheeky and Celina were the most popular varieties, with exports reaching 49,000 cartons and 35,000 cartons, respectively, up by 78% and 937% compared with the same period of last year.

Although preliminary year-to-date apple exports to China were down 15% as of week 17, these may still increase and overall volumes of Red-Bi apples, which include Royal Gala/Gala and Bigbucks, to Far East and Asian markets were up 4%. The South African apple industry’s export estimates for both of these varieties were also up compared with last season on account of many young orchards coming into production. The currently lower supply volumes can be ascribed to logistical challenges that have been experienced, namely, delays due to wind and fog. Similar downward trends have also been observed for Chile, and the industry is confident that the supply to China will regain momentum.

According to a news report released by Hortgro, the Western Cape province experienced strong winds and heavy rains in early April. Apple orchards in the regions of Ceres, Elgin, Grabouw, Vyeboom and Villiersdorp were affected, and at the time of the report growers were still assessing the scale of losses caused by the storms.

The Western Cape is South Africa’s largest apple-producing region, which together with the Eastern Cape accounts for over 95% of the country’s total apple production. Some apple varieties, such as Cripps Pink, Lady in Red, Rosy Glow, Granny Smith and Cripps Red, are currently being harvested or have yet to be picked. Roelf Pienaar, managing director of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, stated that the regions most severely affected by the damage were Helderberg and Stellenbosch.

Rossouw Cillié, proprietor of Laastedrif Agri, remarked that the company’s orchards were hit by hail in February and the recent strong winds once again caused damage. Although 80% of the crop had already been harvested by the time of the storms, the company reported that the winds blew some Cripps Pink and Rosy Glow apples off the trees and also caused some damage to infrastructure.

Sakkie Hanekom from the farm Slagboom estimated that the damage caused by the strong winds was unlikely to exceed 5%, but he also noted that it would only be possible to determine the true extent of the losses during harvesting and fruit bruising appears inevitable.

Some growers noted that the cold weather would be beneficial for the color development of Pink Lady and Cripps Red apples but would also delay picking because of the need to wait several days for orchards to dry out.

Furthermore, the strong winds also impacted port operations. Chris Knoetze, managing director of Link Supply Chain Management, reported that the Port of Cape Town had been affected by high winds since April 4. Operations at the port need to be halted when wind speeds surpass 80 kilometers per hour. As a result, it is anticipated that operations will be intermittent for the time being, contingent upon wind conditions.

Image: Hortgro

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