Cape winter cold enough for fruit farmers

Most parts of the Western Cape experienced mild and even warm weather during May and July, but fruit farmers said this was nothing out of the ordinary and they were still expecting a good harvest.

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“Last year we had a very cold winter and, as a result, the stone and pome fruit harvest was above average this year, and thus far we’re expecting equally good harvests next year,” said Gys du Toit, managing director of the Du Toit Group’s production division. The group has farms in the Ceres and Koue Bokkeveld regions. According to Du Toit, more than 1 200 chilling units were measured on farms in colder parts and up to 1 140 chilling units on those situated in warmer areas for the 2013 winter up to the third week of July.

“This is almost exactly the same as the figures we saw last year,” said Du Toit. The chilling requirement of a fruit tree is the minimum period of cold weather it needs in order to blossom. Most fruit trees need a minimum of 1 200 chilling units to deliver a good harvest. “We did experience some warmer days in July and this has caused some early budding and blooming,” said Du Toit. “Overall, the early varieties seem to be eight days earlier than last year.”

Daan Brink, an agronomist for the Two-a-Day Group, told Farmer’s Weekly that chilling units were measured at two weather stations in the Grabouw area, and at both sites fewer units had been measured this year than at the same time last year. To compensate for the lack of cold, farmers made use of rest-breaking agents to kick-start budding and flowering, said Brink.

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“Last winter was exceptionally cold and we measured about 1 200 chilling units for the area. As a result, farmers had an excellent harvest this year. “This winter is definitely not as cold as last year’s, but it’s not abnormally warm and we expect a good harvest.”

Christo Strydom, a general manager at Wolfpack, said the Wolseley and Tulbagh areas, as well as the most of the Western Cape, had experienced fewer cold days during May compared with 2012. “This is unfortunate because early cold is more beneficial to fruit trees than very cold conditions later in winter,” he said. Conditions had improved during June and July, ensuring cold enough conditions to meet the requirements of fruit trees in the Wolseley and Tulbagh regions.

“There was a power failure at our weather station for most of May so unfortunately I don’t know the number of chilling units experienced this winter,” said Strydom. “I do know that conditions have been much the same as last year, except for a number of mild to warm days in July that have triggered early budding and blooming in some areas.”

Strydom said some of the early varieties seemed to be two to three weeks earlier than last year, but added that very cold weather in August could still cause a delay in fruit development and it was too early to predict when harvest would start.

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