South African growers pleased, despite small-sized pears

The South African pome industry is in agreement that the 2016/17 apple season will be a good one, in line with Hortgro’s estimate of a 3% increase in the apple harvest. Pear growers unanimously report small-sized pears, with volumes down on certain cultivars.

Hannes Pienaar, head of pomefruit at Capespan, postulates that the reason for the smaller pears could be, apart from the drought, an inadequate amount of accumulated heat units caused by cooler than usual nights, although it is difficult to know for certain. He points out that cool nights are, however, good for developing colouration. Capespan represents growers over the entire pomefruit producing area, from the Koue Bokkeveld in the west to the Langkloof in the east, and growers across the entire region are reporting small-sized pears. They’re harvesting Packham's Triumph, Abate Fetel, Williams' Bon Chrétien and Doyenne du Comice.

Gysbert du Toit, marketing director of Dutoits, agrees that pears are small, especially affecting Abate Fetel, which is down in volume. However, he’s very pleased with the appearance of the fruit which are without blemishes. Its pears go to the EU and Southeast Asia.

De Keur growers, in the Koue Bokkeveld, had frost in October, which seems to have affected the pears and early apple varieties like Royal Gala. They’re currently picking Abate Fetel, Doyenne du Comice and Packham’s Triumph. “Of what we’re packing now, 70% is destined for export,” says Charl du Toit, managing director of De Keur. 

Corefruit, which markets the pomefruit of growers predominantly from Ceres and the Langkloof, sent around 43% of their pears to the EU and 20% to the Middle and Far East last year, according to Thomas Mouton, head of pomefruit marketing. 

Hortgro has estimated a 16% drop in Williams' Bon Chrétien exports due to small sizes but also because of weak demand from the Northern Hemisphere.

As for apples, producers are very positive. “It’s early days, 95% of the harvest still lies ahead, but we’re very optimistic,” says Gysbert du Toit. “The production conditions are good, we have nice hot days and cool nights. That difference in temperature is very important.”  At Dutoit a third of Royal Gala apples have been harvested with red apples starting in about two to three weeks. Golden Delicious are also being harvested. 

Charl du Toit of De Keur reports that the Royal Gala apples have a particularly attractive colour this year. Similarly, they’re pleased with the Golden Delicious (their main apple cultivar). De Keur exports most of its apples to Africa, followed by the Far East and the Middle East. Its pear exports go to the same markets – the EU, the UK - as other South African pears.

According to Capespan’s Hannes Pienaar, their growers’ Panorama Golden harvest “isn’t a record harvest” but it is a dry year and the sugars are high. 

Corefruit says the Far East (for instance Malaysia and Taiwan) was their biggest apple export market last year and they also expect a good apple harvest. Africa was its second largest export market last year but the availability of the US dollar is low, due to a weak oil price, and the market is under pressure.

Apple-producing areas weren’t as affected by the drought as other parts of the Western Cape and other agricultural sectors. Indeed, the Langkloof had an exceptional harvest last year, while the rest of the country was struggling. However, the Langkloof’s winter wasn’t as cold as usual, depriving fruit trees of a long period of dormancy and impeding their capacity to produce large volumes.

Publication date: 2/17/2017
Author: Carolize Jansen