While the stone fruit import volume for this year is still anyone’s guess, the industry is hopeful that last year’s downward trend will not be repeated. This, as stone fruit orchards in South Africa are currently in their winter rest period, forcing retailers to import from Spain.
There is, however, a strong demand for stone fruit in South Africa, experts say. This is resulting in higher than usual local prices due to a smaller Spanish crop.
This year, Spain and other European countries were hit by frosty conditions in orchards, which lead to a slower start in stone fruit productions.
As a direct result, Spanish supply is expected to be significantly lower this year.
When stone fruit is out of season in the country, they are imported from countries like Spain, Portugal and Turkey. However, if history is to repeat itself, imports from Spain to South Africa could see another decrease in stone fruit imports.
According to Jacques du Preez, Hortgro’s general manager for trade and markets, total stone fruit imports decreased by 42% during 2020 when compared to 2019.
During 2020, the majority of stone fruit imported was from Spain, except for cherries (which accounted for 132 tonnes) which were mainly imported from Turkey, according to Trademaps.
Giving a breakdown, Du Preez says about 40 tonnes of apricots, 39 tonnes of cherries, and 543 tonnes of plums were imported from Spain last year. A further 1 130 tonnes of peaches and nectarines were brought in.
Fruit exports show upward trend
Meanwhile, Du Preez describes the past stone fruit season as having been “been quite interesting and not without its challenges”.
However, despite logistics being a major challenge along with quality and sizing issues, all stone fruit exports increased on a year-on-year basis.
“Although it was record volumes exported in total for peaches, nectarines and plums, it doesn’t relate to bumper volumes in the orchards,” he warns.
The 2020-2021 numbers saw increases across the board in exports, including a 29% boost in nectarines and a 22% rise in peaches. Plum exports also saw an increase of 71%.
Du Preez says during the previous three years, plums were severely impacted by the drought as well as heat waves during flowering.
“We are actually just back to a normal, proper crop. When comparing the 2020-2021 crop to a more normal year [such as the] 2016-2017 season, the percentage increase of 23% is more in line.”
Some pricing issues encountered
The plum market has, however, been relatively good up to the arrival of more than a million cartons in Europe in week five, Du Preez points out.
This has caused serious problems with prices tumbling down and large volumes still arriving for another next five weeks. Prices, Du Preez says, have been poor in Europe as a result thereof.
“The nectarine market has been relatively good throughout and peaches and apricots also did not fair too poorly,” he says.
However, from a production standpoint, it has been a great season for stone fruit in general, but the plum market was severely under pressure with much lower returns per carton, Du Preez says.