Fruit outlook- South Africa

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Given the current market conditions, challenges regarding access to new markets and import tariff structures enforced by many countries importing fruit from South Africa, the expectation is that the pace of area expansion will not be maintained. It is anticipated that: 1) year-on-year growth in the number of hectares will slow down over the next couple of years, and 2) the production output growth rate will increase in the short term as non-bearing hectares starts contributing to total production, after which it stabilises in line with longer term average hectare growth.


In particular, the young orchards in the categories of lemons and limes and soft citrus are both an impressive growth feat and an area of concern for the future in terms of price and markets opportunities. As the new soft citrus and lemons and limes move into full production over the next couple of years, the projected production by 2028 is 561 848 tonnes and 642 022 tonnes, respectively. The total area under citrus production, across all four categories, is expected to grow by 1.92%, on average, over the next ten years, amounting to 100 777 cultivated hectares by 2028.

Table grapes

The table grape industry, despite a relative high year-on-year growth from 13 462 hectares in 2010/11 to 21 067 hectares in 2017/18, still has been able to maintain a healthy relationship between younger and older vines. The current split is approximately 60:40. Vineyards that are 9 years and younger represents 60%, and vineyards 10 years and older represents 40% of the total area. In terms of the projection for the next 10 years, table grape hectares and production are expected to consolidate and only grow at a rate of 7.1% and 8.8%, respectively by 2028. This translates into an annual growth rate in both hectares and volume of less than 1%.

Despite a number of high yield potential cultivars, producers are expected to target quality as opposed to volumes, resulting in a more conservative yield projection. With the healthy percentage of new vineyards and the fast turnaround from establishment to full-bearing capacity, the production rate expectation is slightly higher than the area, since the area under new cultivars will increase yield per hectare, even when producers target quality more than quantity.

Pome fruit

With the drought in the Western Cape, where more than 90% of apples and pears are produced, pome fruit production hectares and volumes have been under pressure over the last couple of years. Early replacement strategies were necessitated by older orchards becoming unprofitable, but also because their water requirement per hectare is more than that of a new young orchard. Apple bearing hectares are expected to grow by 9% from 2018 to 2028, with a 2% decline in pear bearing hectares over the same period. With hectares in full production slowing down somewhat during the drought period, new hectares have grown at an increased tempo. Therefore, when these new hectares enter full bearing, the production volumes are expected to grow slightly faster over the outlook period, in comparison to the bearing hectares over the same period. The rate at which new trees are established are expected to return to longer term trend levels towards the middle of the outlook period.

Stone fruit

Peaches, both cling and dessert, have seen a decline in the number of hectares over the last five years. With 67% of produce delivered for processing, an agroindustry under severe pressure, many producers are replacing peaches with more profitable alternatives when orchards reach replacement age. With 56% of peach orchards currently in their prime productive years, producers are looking for alternative markets and preparing orchards differently, in accordance with market needs. Despite the drought and the consequent impact on quality, peach exports have grown by 57% in 5 years' time, albeit from a small base.

Contrary to peaches, nectarine production area is holding steady. Production in the Ceres area increased, which can be, at least partially, attributed to cultivar selection, pack-house capacity before apple harvesting starts, and securing seasonal labour earlier in the season, especially with the idea of starting the apple harvesting with a more established team. A flat curve is expected for the next ten years, but with a greater focus on farm level for export quality first and foremost, and then quantity.

Plum production has seen some expansion over the last number of years, especially in areas previously considered for other fruit production, such as apricots in the Klein Karoo, cling peaches in the Ceres/Tulbagh/Wolseley area, and wine grapes in Franschhoek and surrounding areas. Plum trees are slower than peaches and apricots to reach fi rst bearing and then full-bearing age, but it also has the potential to have a longer productive lifespan than its stone fruit counterparts. The age distribution of these orchards is healthy, with 29% of total hectares between 0-5 years old, creating a continuous production stream that will replace the 22% of orchards that are 18 years of age and older. The remaining 49% are in the most productive cycle of their lifespan.

The area under apricot is on a slow decline, from 3 230 hectares in 2012 to 2 700 hectares in 2018, with the expectation that this trend will continue. A concerning factor in the apricot industry is that 48% of the orchards are 18+ years of age, with 20 to 25 years typically seen as the lifespan of an apricot tree. This could very well mean that we can see a continuous decline in the total hectares over the medium term, should an improved selection of cultivars which are better suited for the South African conditions not become available. The current projection suggests a decline of 16.6% in cultivated area by 2028.