Early stonefruit season hampers South African imports
The early start to this year’s stonefruit harvest in South Africa made for a lighter crop and smaller sizes this year. But shippers expect volumes will pick up going into 2015.
Harvesting of stone fruit in South Africa got off to a very early start this year, with picking getting underway as much as 3 weeks earlier than normal. The quick start to the season resulted in smaller sizes, so growers had trouble filling out boxes. Apricots, in particular, were not as plentiful as expected, so early estimates as to how much fruit would be picked and shipped were not met.
Plums and peaches
Plum volumes were also off, with fruit sets not going well in some areas. As with apricots, smaller sizes made it harder to fill out boxes and meet early volume estimates. Peaches recovered from early deficiencies in the season and peak volumes are currently coming out of South Africa. Sizing on peaches has also been good.
Nectarines have also fared well in terms of sizes, but variability in maturity and sugar content made it a challenge to choose the right fruit for export early in the season. In general, the nectarine crop is looking very promising, according to one South African exporter.
Quality of stonefruit
Despite challenges with sizing and volumes, quality of fruit has been good. Good weather throughout the growing season resulted in high sugar levels in most fruit. Good sugar content helps fruit store well, so shelf life should be good. While the early part of the stone fruit season was characterized by a shortage of fruit, the last week has brought increased volumes, and exporters hope those volumes will continue going into January.
A early shortage of fruit resulted in higher prices, but those prices are starting to come down now that volumes are filling out. One exporter was concerned with how quickly prices rose earlier in the year because the subsequent drop might also come very quickly. Pricing trends have been similar to those from the 2011 season, but returns have been better because of a more favorable exchange rate. Prices in the United Kingdom, in particular, have been good when compared to the rest of Europe. Sales in Europe this time of year are usually pretty sluggish, but shippers expect demand to pick up in January.
A stone fruit variety that has drawn a lot of interest in Europe has been the flat peach. While the uptick in attention to the variety has made South African exporters take note, South African growers cannot plant the variety commercially for at least another three years because of quarantine regulations. But if interest in flat stone fruit persists, growers will likely plant and export the fruit to Europe in the future.
Middle and Far East
Volumes of stone fruit in the Middle East and Far East have been very good this year, but prices there have been under pressure and are currently trending downward. While South African exporters don’t ship most of their fruit to those markets, those areas remain important, so exporters are watching those markets closely.