As the South African grape export season slowly drags to an end, the extent of just how tough a season it has been is becoming clear.
In most of the table grape regions crops have declined, with the only exception being the northern region where a record volume of just over 6m cartons were packed.
In the other regions drought and water shortages have affected growers, while in the Orange River region the crop set just did not match last year’s harvest.
Overall, the industry in most areas will feel that it still did reasonably well despite the effect of the drought and water shortages in the Western Cape.
Now, with the end of May in sight and the normal winter rains still not having arrived, growers will turn their eyes to next year. They will literally be praying for good rains to fill dams and break the drought.
SATI says they have not been able to do the final calculations yet, but it is pretty clear that the crop will be around 10 per cent down compared with last year, when around 67m cartons were exported compared to this year’s 61m cartons.
On top of this, exchange rates were not as favourable as last year and US dollar markets in particular failed to compete with what growers could earn in the UK and in Western Europe.
This continues to cause concern in the South African industry which for years now has been trying to sell increased volumes in the East and reduce dependence on the traditional markets.
The Olifants Region, which lies along the West Coast of the Cape Province, packed 30 per cent less than last year and suffered more than others from the drought and water shortages. In some cases growers lost whole vineyards.
“It is really a tough time for them and our overall performance does not reflect their pain,” said a SATI spokesperson.
While there is every chance that good rains will dramatically change the fortunes for table grape growers in the Cape, only time will tell what the position will be like at the end of the winter.
Water has become a major issue in the Cape region and it is unlikely that the agri-sector will also face some new restrictions as it moves into the future.
What will be pleasing for the sector will be the fact that the emergence of new varieties is continuing, with a number of the new arrivals receiving good reviews this year. Amongst them are the IFG varieties Sweet Globe and Sweet Celebration, FireStar from Stargrow and Joybells which has been officially released by the South African ARC breeding programme.
It is also clear that the northern table grape growing regions have now proved conclusively that they have been able to overcome the restraints which growing grapes in a summer rainfall region normally places on growers. Exports have been growing steadily over the past few years and the region now pack its products over a four month period.