SATI, the South African table grape industry organisation, has said it is still confident that the country's export crop will not be lower than indicated in its second forecast in December.
The organisation always uses a range when predicting the crop, indicating an upper and lower volume between which the final result could vary. Previously the lowest level was set at 55.4m cartons.
This has been maintained in the latest forecast issued this week. However, the upper level and therefore the more optimistic outlook, has been reduced by around 1m cartons to 59.3m cartons, indicating a possible worsening of the impact of the drought.
Three of the South African table grape growing regions are located in the drought affected area. The optimistic forecast is that this export crop could be 12.2 per cent lower than last year’s level, while the pessimistic outlook indicates a drop of up to 18 per cent.
“This development is mainly due to the persistent drought in the Western Cape, where three of the five production regions in South Africa are situated. The extreme heat and reduced water allocations to agriculture in the drought stricken production regions are impacting the harvest,” SATI noted.
With storage dams in the Cape running extremely low and 'Day Zero', the date when the City of Cape Town is expected to run out of water and taps being turned off, now only 100 days away, growers are hoping that they will get through the season. The rainy season in what is a winter rainfall region is still some months away.
The Orange River, which is not affected by the drought, will just about complete its harvest during the next week and will also have a lower crop this year. After breaking through the 20m-carton mark last year, this year’s crop will be around 19m cartons.
The other major region, the Hex River Valley, will also end up below 20m cartons, with the forecast at best indicating 18.5m carton crop.
While experienced growers in the Hex River Valley indicate that the effect of the drought could be less than originally expected, growers in the upper region of the Valley are experiencing huge problems with water for irrigation.
The third region where drought is having a major effect on the crop is the Olifants River. There the forecast has dropped below the 3m carton mark.
The exception this year is the northern region, which is having an excellent crop, with a record export volume of around 6.5m cartons predicted.
Exporters stress that they have enough table grapes to service their programmes, but shipments to all markets will be affected.