Changing destinations for South African apples

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“The volume of apples is expected to be up 6% on last year with pears virtually the same,” explained Jacques du Preez, General Manager: Trade & Markets of Hortgro. “Last year’s harvest was affected by the drought conditions, the crop this year seems to be better than expected, it’s not quite where it should be but definitely better than last year and sizing is around average.”

European stocks are still quite high making the export to that market challenging. “We anticipated this back in November last year and are just waiting to see what the holding capacity will be for the new apples, but it seems like some of the importers in Europe have switched over early given the stocks available. This may be an indication of the quality, but it will be a tough market due to the stocks.”

Jacques said that more will go to the Far and Middle East as well as Africa due to the European stock levels.

The UK was traditionally the top export market for South African apples, but things have changed over the years. The last couple of years it has been a close contest between Africa and the Far East for biggest export market. “Africa can be up and down as it reflects the oil price and what is happening in Nigeria to a large extent, but it has been relatively good this year, starting off well but as usual it has tapered slightly. I expect it to pick up again towards the end of the year.”

Europe and the UK is now the third biggest market. Now Africa and Far East are around 30% each with Europe at roughly 8% and the UK 20%

Jacques doesn’t expect Brexit to have a big effect on exports to the UK but said it will depend on any import duties which are yet to be set, but any change will not be overnight and talks are ongoing between South Africa and the UK governments. A lot of uncertainty still remains on how it will play out however.

The changing destinations has had an influence on the varieties planted in South Africa, “Years ago the UK was the biggest market for Golden Delicious apples until the French started to compete with South Africa. Now Africa is the biggest market for Goldens, but there is different demand from Eastern Africa than from Western Africa, generally speaking Western Africa likes Goldens while Eastern Africa likes bi-coloured and pinks. The Far East is a big place but countries such as Taiwan are 95%+ Fuji, Singapore and Malaysia like the bi-colours and the pinks, although Malaysia has a big component of Granny Smith’s as well while Bangladesh likes Royal Gala/Gala .”

South Africa is going through a consolidation period as far as acreage is concerned with both apples and pears, possibly even a slight decrease in acreage, but is this does not relate to a decrease in production. Higher density production and better yielding varieties have been planted with better packouts and better colour.

“Production will keep increasing for at least the next five years, the decrease in hectares may last a couple of years but after the water situation has recovered we may see a bit of an uplift again,” said Jacques.

Author: Nichola McGregor