South African cherry season off to good start following some weather challenges

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Fruit exporter Tru-Cape, whose growers produce cherries in Ceres in the Western Cape, told Fresh Fruit Portal that the first harvests began around late October.

“Things are going well for us,” Calla du Toit, the company’s procurement manager, said on Oct. 31

“We don’t expect harvests bigger than last year because we had in some areas a lot of snowfall. Some growers have lost orchards because of netting that wasn’t designed to carry a huge amount of snow … but apart from those losses we expect pretty much the same crop as last year.”

Du Toit expected that Tru-Cape’s peak volumes would come around the second or third week of November.

“It does seem that our season might be three to seven days later due to cold weather during the flowering period,” he said, adding that a heatwave in October may affect fruit set of some varieties. 

“But it’s still very early days and we don’t think that the weather will have a drastic influence.”

The cherry industry in South African is still very young, but Du Toit said that Tru-Cape’s cherry business is growing nicely. He noted that cherries were becoming increasingly popular in the Ceres area, in part due the high altitude and good winters.

“I think South Africa is still learning about rootstocks and varieties. We’re not as big as Chile or some of the other big players in the Southern Hemisphere, but what I do see is that the interest in cherries is getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“South Africa is a relatively dry country with limited water resources, so growers are looking for crops with a shorter season. And remember, cherries from full bloom to harvest is normally about 61 days, which is way shorter than most apple varieties.

“So there’s definitely a tendency to move away from apples to cherries because of water restrictions that will only get tougher and tougher in the future.”

Another fruit exporter, ZZ2, also reports that the season has been going well. The company owns and helps to manage farms in various regions including Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West. 

“At this stage it’s all looking good. We’ve had a few issues because there’s been a little bit of rain and what happens is that when you have rain there are usually a few quality issues, but we haven’t had too many,” said the company’s marketing manager, Clive Garrett, on Oct. 26.

“We haven’t received prices back yet from the exports because it’s a little bit too early, but indications are that we will at least achieve the prices that we achieved last year in terms of exports.”

He added that picking began on Oct. 4 and will likely run until the end of November.

“I think South Africa’s got a very fortunate position – we come in after the Canadian season has finished but before the Chilean season starts, so there are very few cherries in the world in the weeks when we start picking,” he said.

Last year ZZ2 exported around 60 metric tons (MT) of fruit, and Garrett said that this year the volume would be “significantly” higher, in part thanks to the acquisition of new cherry farms.

South Africa mainly ships to the European market, with some small volumes going to Far Eastern countries like Hong Kong and Singapore. It is working on seguring access to the mainland Chinese market.