South Africa’s raisin exports is under immense pressure as growers in its best producing region are battling to power through the impact of January’s heavy rains.
Raisin producers in the Orange River region of the Northern Cape have suffered great losses. Up to 88% of the country’s total raisin production output originates from there.
This is predicted to have a snowball effect on the total export volumes for Mzansi’s raisins this season.
The Olifants River region in the Western Cape is the only other producing region, contributing only 12% to the country’s raisin production.
According to Ferdie Botha, chief executive of Raisins SA, initial production volumes for the Orange River region was forecasted at 75 000 tonnes towards the end of December 2020.
He now tells Food For Mzansi that since the rains, the crop projection has been adjusted downward by between 20% to 25%, a major decrease from last year’s production total of 85 000 tonnes.
South Africa was initially expecting to export 78 000 tonnes this year. The revised figure now indicates a 20% decline.
Growing conditions challenged
Botha explains that the recent weather has impacted usual climate conditions in these parts.
Usually, these regions experience exceptional levels of sunshine between January and March, which is when the fruit is harvested and naturally sun-dried.
The dry, sunny climate, along with the ample supply of water from the rivers, makes ideal growing conditions to produce the highest quality raisins with world-leading shelf life, colour and flavour.
However, Botha says, “The heavy rains in the new year did not provide the ideal conditions for which the Orange River is known.”
Over the last two months, the rainfall, spread over a 350 kilometre stretch along the Orange River valley, has varied between 80 and 200 millimetres.
However, despite these challenging times, the Olifants River valley looks promising with a slightly higher crop compared to last year.
Botha says the Olifants River is also the only region in the country that can produce currants which are made from small grape varieties. Taking the production in this area into account, total raisin volume production has been adjusted downward by 18%.
Between January and December 2020, 71 000 tonnes of raisins were marketed of which 63 000 tonnes were shipped to international markets and 8 000 tonnes sold locally.
Primarily, raisins are distributed through three market channels, namely the food industry, food services and retail.
Farmers’ mitigation efforts
From a larger industry perspective, having a second production area reduces risk to ensure product supply continuity to industry markets, says Botha.
“Although the Olifants River only represents 12%, it is an area which represents good opportunity for future volume growth. In essence, (it enables) geographical diversification of raisin production in South Africa.”
Raisins SA remains optimistic for the season and the rest of the year’s raisin exports.
the industry is working alongside national and international partners to grow South africa’s long-term market share.
Furthermore, at a grower level, Botha explains that producers can apply different practices to mitigate challenges.
“Technical information about how to manage your vineyards and what to look out for is shared with producers on a regular basis.
“Airflow, for example, is very important to make sure the bunches dry off as quickly as possible after the rain. It is therefore important to make sure canopy and weed control are done correctly,” Botha states.
In addition, Botha told Fruitnet.com that Raisins SA and packers’ technical staff are currently engaged in frequent communication with growers to ensure that the appropriate practices are implemented at farm level.
“These include the selection of fruit harvested to ensure good quality, canopy management and constant monitoring of the situation. However, we definitely expect a short crop this year,” he says in the article.
Meanwhile Raisins SA remain optimistic for the season and the rest of 2021.
Currently, the industry is working alongside national and international partners to grow South Africa’s market share over the long term.
They are working to raise the awareness of what the industry has to offer in terms of quality and the associated health benefits of dried fruits, and raisins in particular.