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Fred Meintjes


Late grape crops to affect pre-Christmas supply

The Orange River table grape crop is about two weeks later than normal, while Namibia is lagging by one week

Late grape crops to affect pre-Christmas supply

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South Africa’s traditional table grape supplies to the UK and European pre-Christmas markets will be affected by a later than expected start to the season.

In the Orange River the crop is about two weeks later than normal, while the season at Aussenkehr in Namibia is running at least one week behind normal.

This means that the growers in the Northern Bushveld region of South Africa will have an extended early-season opportunity to supply major customers in Europe and the UK.

The Bushveld season is well on the way, with some 1.3m cartons out of a total expected crop of 7m cartons having already been packed and shipped.

Sources in the table grape sector admit that they had to do some neat footwork to explain the situation. “It is really only because the season is running late,” says SATI’s Joseph Lombard. “We have not adjusted our overall crop forecast and we will soon be in full production.”

The Orange River growers are expected to start packing next week and will be in full production in week 48. This will mean that the first major shipping week will be the later part of week 48, giving only a small window of supply to the pre-Christmas market.

Although the overall crop forecast has not been reduced, there are likely to be changes, with heat during critical stages affecting the crop set. This is the case in the Orange River, but even there growers are still reluctant to make a final call.

The latest information on the Namibian crop is that volumes are likely to be lighter and the country may not see the predicted 7m carton export volume.

In the other South African table grape regions the harvest is still some time away, but it is expected that the grapes will ripen on time to allow the export industry to do some catching up.

While South African shipments get underway, developments in South America and in the US are likely to impact early season supply.

Clear signs on how the destructive Trump Trade War with China is affecting Californian table grape exporters have now emerged.

One South African source says there are currently some 65m 8kg cartons of various grape categories in cold store in the US. A major portion of these grapes would have been shipped to Hong Kong for sale in China.

“It is really a tragedy for US growers, who would normally sell their grapes for around US$44 and now cannot get a buyer at US$18.”

This backlog in sales of Californian grapes will discourage Chilean shipments to the US, and they are likely to ship much more of their early grapes to China. “Once the market there is saturated they will turn their attention to Europe and the UK. This will undoubtedly affect the markets this year.”

While Chilean growers have their own problems with rain and floods, it is likely to affect the late season, which will in the end again increase opportunities for South Africans in the late market.

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