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South Africa's stone fruit is back on track

South Africa’s stone fruit industry is back running at full speed, with exporters saying they are in a stronger position following last year’s port strikes

A port and rail worker strike in October 2022 caused holdups in fruit sendings out of South African ports, however with the industrial action now resolved and efforts in the off-season to smooth the service, European buyers can expect efficient and high-quality deliveries. 

"There is a much closer working relationship between the port users and the port itself now, as well as more collaboration and information sharing,” explained Jacques du Preez, general manager of trade and markets at Hortgro. “While we have experienced some delays due to the port going wind and fogbound, and some vessel ranging, shipping has been much more reliable and even so far this year,” he added.

Plum quality this season is looking good despite lower volumes and slightly smaller sizing for the early cultivars. As a result, the estimate for the remainder of the season has been adjusted downwards. However, Hortgro stressed there is enough fruit to service all markets. Better outlook is expected for sizing on the mid to late season cultivars. 

“After the terrible past three seasons for returns, we anticipate the industry will go into a consolidation phase,” Du Preez said. “Plum growers have suffered average net losses for the past three seasons. There is still a lot of younger orchards that need to reach their full crop, but we will most likely not see an increase in the total area planted to plums in the next couple of years.” 

Despite the challenges, growers are continuing to focus on improving their environmental footprint, using devices such as the carbon calculator since 2011 as part of the Confronting Clime Change (CCC) initiative. “Reducing our carbon footprint is an important part of our plans, and we’ve had numerous research projects ongoing for a number of years now,” Du Preez concluded.