South African table grape industry seeks improvements in 2020-21

Weeks ahead of the first South African grape exports of the season, the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI) released a strong statement on September 22. Producers expect a much better season than the previous one.

Last season was one of the toughest since the post-deregulation era two decades ago. Increases in production costs, transportation costs and logistical challenges have put considerable pressure on producers.

“Producers and stakeholders have been planning proactively, assessing how to improve on-farm quality and mitigate as much risk as possible during product transportation,” SATI officials say. “The focus has been on developing and improving collaborative working relationships within the industry to help overcome the challenges faced last season.”

To prepare for the upcoming season, SATI has worked closely with a number of national trade organizations to proactively mitigate these challenges. Dedicated technical support teams help growers deliver top quality grapes.

SATI indicates continuous improvements in on-farm production, including:
• Post-harvest protocols and product handling
• Quality and crop control
• Monitoring and maintaining optimal cold room temperatures. In collaboration with producers and exporters, SATI is currently developing a cold chain project to monitor temperatures from the packing station to the market.
• Packing stations. Whenever possible, growers pack their own fruit in on-farm packing facilities – a significant investment of capital and resources that demonstrates growers’ ongoing commitment to growing and exporting quality produce.

Market access progress

South African exports of table grapes have increased year on year for the past five years. In fact, over the past four years, exports to the EU have grown by 6% in compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

UK exports remained stable, posting a 4% increase in CAGR over the same period. Exports to Canada have increased by 19% CAGR over the past four years. Exports to the United States have increased by 40% CAGR over the same period and the industry is eager to expand this market further.

Compared to other producing countries in the southern hemisphere, South Africa has the advantage of being close to Europe and of free trade agreements with the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Continued expansion into Southeast Asian markets remains one of SATI’s strategic objectives, and significant progress has been made in the Philippines. SATI’s Chinese market development campaign was successfully launched two years ago and continued last season despite Covid-19 restrictions in China.

Consolidation of cultivars

To stay in line with global market trends, South African growers have phased out less popular cultivars to plant more new generation cultivars. Global consumption trends indicate a preference for white seedless grapes, and South Africa’s 2022 National Vine Census shows growers have kept pace with this trend.

The coming season

Mecia Peterson, head of market development and communications at SATI, said on September 23 that her group will publish its first harvest estimate in October. In general, “the climate has been good for producers”.

The first grape exports from South Africa are shipped in October. There are five shipping zones. In order of their seasonal maritime succession, these are the Northern Province, the Orange River, the Olifants River, the Berg River and the Hex River.

Peterson said around 75% of South Africa’s grape exports go to the EU and UK. India, the United States and Canada are other markets.

Based at the Montreal headquarters of Capespan North America, Mark Greenberg, president, said his company imports grapes from South Africa, Peru, Chile for the US and Canadian markets. Capespan ships its first African grapes from Namibia to the UK, Europe and Canada in November.

About Florence L. Silvia

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