Enthusiasm within Mzansi’s kiwi fruit industry is running high as producers get ready to take advantage of the market gap in exports to Asia and Europe.
South Africa is ahead of New Zealand who will only pick its main crop in April this year. New Zealand is the biggest exporter of gold kiwifruit in the world.
Peter Nicholson, gold kiwi farmer near Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal, says producers are excited to cash in on this favourable position.
“Due to the latitude in South Africa, we can produce gold kiwifruit between two and 12 weeks before New Zealand.”
Nicholson explains that the Northern Hemisphere will in the next few months have consumed most of its kiwis.
Currently, China is the biggest producer and consumer of golden kiwis north of the Equator.
With New Zealand’s absence, gold kiwis picked in South Africa in February and March, is set make their way into the European and Asian market.
“Gold kiwifruit have a limited storage life of only three months or so. So, when the South African fruit arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, it goes into an open market, hence the crazy prices.”
Furthermore, as most warehouses are largely available around this time and ports are relatively empty, no export delays are expected. The majority of South Africa’s kiwis are exported.
However, second-grade fruit, estimated at 20% of production, is destined for the local market.
Last year, 220 tonnes of kiwifruit were sold on the international circuit.
In Mzansi, golden kiwis are planted in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal.
The South African Kiwi Growers says an influx of new varieties of green, gold and red kiwifruit have led to a local boom.
There has also been a steady increase in the establishment of new orchards.
Viable, even on small-scale
According to Nicholson, farmers across the country are suddenly waking up to the kiwi crop.
“Kiwis are high yielding and achieve high prices. It is in a global undersupply with an open window period for South African exports,” he says.
It can also handle significant cold (down to -15°C) and requires very little or no spraying.
“The other extraordinary thing is, it’s possible to become cash positive in half the time of most other crops, typically in year four.
“There is no alternate bearing on kiwis and they only require 1.5 to 2 labour units per hectare,” he explains.
Nicholson says small-scale kiwi farming remains viable. A producer can be commercially viable with just five hectares of golden kiwis, provided they do it properly.
Record harvests expected
Meanwhile, the first commercial plantings in the Mpumalanga and Western Cape are starting to come of age and farmer’s initial input costs are paying off.
Areas like White River and Worcester in these producing provinces are expecting record harvests next season.
Harvesting in these regions are likely start mid to late February, much earlier than expected.