Early Cape avocado harvest meets huge demand and buoyant prices

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A shortage of avocados on the market, after a low crop from the Lowveld, is spurring on the avocado harvest in the Southern Cape which, fortuitously, is a few weeks ahead of the usual schedule.

Unseasonably warm springtime temperatures – even reaching 40°C last week, extremely unusual for the area – and the continuing drought have advanced the maturity of fruit; some cultivars are two to three weeks ahead.

“The early maturity of avocados has aligned very well for us with the shortage on the domestic market,” says Dr Guy Witney, avocado project manager on Moolman Farms, near George in the Southern Cape. “On the domestic market prices are extremely good and there is huge demand from the ripening industries for avocados.”

The Pinkerton harvest has started in the Southern Cape, much of it destined for the local municipal markets which are much emptier than last year this time. Westfalia’s GEM avocado harvest started last week already, about three weeks ahead, and expected to be in full swing by next week, a cultivar that ships very well, Dr Witney notes, and well-placed to take advantage of the strong export prices all over Europe this season.

Avo season probably over just after Christmas
Hass will start coming off soon, he continues, with Reed following around the second week of November and Lamb Hass in early December. Mature Lamb Hass has the ability to hang for a long time, but this year it makes no sense to let anything hang.

“I think all avocados will be gone by the end of the Christmas holidays, when there’s big demand for avocados, particularly ripe-and-ready avocados. It will be very quiet from the second week of January onwards until ZZ2 starts harvesting again up in Mooketsi [Limpopo Province]. There’ll be a six week period of nothing, except for those coming from Israel or Spain.”

Avocado superbloom across the country
The Southern Cape’s avocado trees are seeing the same superbloom as in the rest of the country, and it’s looking spectacular, he says.

“The superbloom is a result of the low crop this year and it could be that we’re going into another bumper crop which is very good from an export point of view – it just depends on supply from the rest of the world.”

George: worst drought in living memory
However, while the drought appears to be broken from Bot River westwards to Cape Town, along the coast and inland in the Southern Cape, in towns like George, Heidelberg, Riversdal, all the way to Port Elizabeth, it is very dry.

In fact, Dr Witney says, the current Southern Cape drought is the worst in living memory. “We’ve had almost no rain during the last six weeks, and we’re supposed to be an all-year rainfall area. For 2019 we’ve only had 280mm of rain, where it should’ve been at around 500mm by now.”

Moolman Farms is a new avocado farm, picking its first marketable crop this year, while packing avocados from other Southern Cape growers for Tzaneen-based Afrupro. They’re still planting rapidly, expecting to have 60ha under avocado by mid-2020.

Author: Carolize Jansen