At the mid-point of the South African stonefruit season, exporters have said that despite a more positive outlook for the rest of the season, the last few weeks have been challenging.
This is the view of Hans Christiaan Muylaert-Gelein, CEO of Fruits Unlimited, who said: “With the plum crop already down by 12 per cent, we expect volumes to drop further. The two main traditional plum varieties, Laetitia and Songold, had a poor set and could be down as much as 20 per cent.”
Muylaert-Gelein noted that only African Delight looked like a reliable mid-season variety. “Angelino looks normal but is early and packing has already started in some areas.”
The South African plum crop could drop by as much as 3m cartons this year, from 12.3m cartons in 2017 (the last non-drought affected season) to 9.6m cartons.
“The good news is that Fruits Unlimited growers are now only getting into third gear," he continued. "We had a few strong weeks with the new varieties Midnight Gold and Polaris, which were shipped in week 3 and week 4.
“In week 5 we saw the first commercial volumes of Honey Punch, which was described in our tastings as ‘the best cultivar in the past 16 years of imported varieties.” Muylaert-Gelein said. “Those who tasted it talked about the unique aroma, fantastic red flesh and a clear winner amongst plums.”
Flavour King remains a great pluot and undoubtedly one of the best flavoured plums, he explained, adding that there was not enough fruit and volumes would be down for the fifth year in a row.
“We at Fruits Unlimited, are constantly trying to improve our stonefruit business and what better way than to improve eating quality for the satisfaction of our clients as well as the consumer,” said Muylaert-Gelein. “There are several ways to do this, for instance the development of new improved varieties, but one very important but often neglected option is to seek the best of a combination of naturally nutrient balanced soil, slope and micro climate."
On the apricot front, he said that the company was happy with "very satisfying" Faralia and Farely volumes coming into the mix.
The varieties extend the South African season into January and February and have good flavour. “The attractive blush will surely make this a must for any customer interesting in extending the Southern Hemisphere apricot season,” Muylaert-Gelein outlined.
However, he said growers in certain parts of the Little Karoo were still having a tough time. “Water, or rather the lack of it, has once again taken center stage. Ladismith has now been declared a disaster area. Some rain is forecast for the next few days but for some growers it will come too late.”