For South African stonefruit growers the 2017/18 season cannot finish soon enough. The reality of drought and lower crops have been with them for some time, but just as rain clouds brought signs of relief, unseasonal thunderstorms caused damage to crops in the Western and Eastern Cape.
During three days this week rain, wind and hail hit certain production areas over a wide area. Industry body Hortgro said a further 200,000 cartons had been knocked off an already drought-hit plum crop.
The total plum crop is now estimated to be 19 per cent lower in the mid- to late-season regions and the overall drop is expected to be 17 per cent lower than last year.
In 2016/17 South Africa exported 12.34m cartons of plums, with this year's total now estimated at 10.26m cartons.
“The damage mainly occurred in certain production areas (Franschhoek, Simondium, Stellenbosch, Tulbagh, Montagu, Langkloof) and was also localised within production areas," said Hortgro. "Although certain growers suffered great losses, it was not the whole industry that was affected.”
The organisation said that the main cultivars affected were Songold, African Delight, Ruby Star and Angeleno. “The damage to the nectarine crop is minor. Prior to the storms 65 per cent of the plum and 75 per cent of the nectarine harvests were already harvested and packed.”
At the start of the season industry sources warned that, because of the drought the mid- to late-season was likely to be more affected than the early crops.
Recently experts warned that the packout on Songold and Laetitia were lower than expected. The interference of wind, rain and hail would be another unpleasant surprise.