South Africa’s table grape industry is almost as old as the arrival of the first Europeans at the Cape to start a refreshment station to supply passing vessels between Europe and the East.
This remarkable history has been captured in a comprehensive publication from South Africa’s table grape industry organisation SATI which covered both a remarkable history and 125 years of supply to the UK and Europe, as well as rapid change in recent times.
The publication – 125 years in pursuit of Excellence – also reveals that South Africa is second only to the US in introducing new royalty bearing trademarked or registered varieties which is expected to further change the destiny of the industry.
From being dominated by seeded varieties in 2000, there was only one seeded variety left on the country’s top twenty cultivar list in 2018.
With the world’s breeding programmes opening up to South African growers and exporters since deregulation in 1997, they now have a huge choice in better varieties which are transforming table grape growing in South Africa.
The publication reports that in 2015/16 table grape varieties earning royalties and planted in South Africa represented 35.85 per cent of the total volume produced and exported from the country. This rose from only 13.63 per cent in the 2010/11 season. In 2015/16 the US led with 39.40 per cent of royalty earning varieties from that country.
This is in stark contrast with Chile and Peru, with only 2.7 per cent and 4.38 per cent of royalty bearing varieties exported respectively.
Aside from the cultivar shift in South Africa, the publication also deals with the devastating effect of deregulations and its aftermath, when growers had a particularly difficult time, as well as the way the table grape growers in South Africa embraced the free market system and recovered during the two first decades of the new century.
One of the initial effects was substantial market losses, as smaller growers went out of business and larger producers expanded their farming operations.
A feature of this period was the emergence of grower exporters. These larger producers also extended their vineyards throughout the country to be able to serve their customers from early to late in the season.
The publication details the strong link between South African growers and the trade in the UK, which has endured since the first grapes were exported in 1893. There is also reference to the struggle of Orange River producers to carve for themselves a portion of the total South African export basket during the 1980s in the face of strong opposition from the traditional Cape table grape regions because they feared that the seedless grape entry would affect their seeded grape markets.
125 Years in Pursuit of Excellence is a mix of the need to comply with the political correctness one finds in South Africa today while telling great stories of personalities, events and the regions that have shaped grape growing in South Africa.
Among these are events both in the UK and South Africa, including interaction between growers and the Royal Family. It also highlights contributions from eight personalities who played leading roles in the development of the industry, such as Unifruco’s legendary chief executives, the late Louis Kriel, as well a growers Aat Hoekstra, from Paarl, and Piet Karsten from the Orange River.
125 Years in Pursuit of Excellence was written by long-standing Eurofruit contributor Fred Meintjes and those interested in obtaining a copy should contact SATI at telephone number +27 21 863 0366 or e-mail Clayton Swart - Clayton@satgi.co.za.