Fruit industry has mixed reactions to warmer winter

Citrus, subtropical fruit and tomato producers have expressed mixed reaction to what is generally perceived to have been a warmer-than-usual winter so far.

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In many instances, avocado farmers were pleased that their fruit had not experienced the frost damage common at this time of year, and tomato farmers had been achieving bigger harvests. However, certain citrus-growing areas had failed to get the early winter cold snaps needed for the best orange skin colouring for their fruit. “Average daily temperatures in June this year have been higher in some of our production areas,” said Derek Donkin, CEO of the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association.

He confirmed that flowering among major local subtropical fruit varieties, namely avocados, litchis, macadamias and mangos, was currently looking good. But he warned that winter was not over yet and that only in October and November would the industry be able to tell how good the final fruit set had been.

Meanwhile, citrus farming areas that had not received early winter cold snaps were concerned that some export markets would react unfavourably to the lighter-skinned fruit. CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association, Justin Chadwick, said that consumers in a number of countries tended to think that bright orange citrus tasted sweeter. “There have been the necessary cold snaps in other parts of our citrus production areas,” said Chadwick.

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He added that cold snaps during winter were also necessary to break the life-cycles of persistent citrus pests and, although he had not yet had any reports of significant pest problems so far this winter, he felt the warmer winter would definitely have some influence on the effects of pests on the current citrus crop. Henk van Zyl, a general manager with tomato giant ZZ2, reported that his business had recorded warmer May, June and July temperatures.

“This has resulted in bigger tomato sizes across all varieties, and in bigger yields,” he said. “The bigger sizes are good for certain varieties, but not good for the speciality tomato varieties. “Another significant problem is that tomato prices are at least 30% lower now than at the same time last year.

“This is because areas where tomato production is usually halted due to frost, such as Ellisras and Baltimore, are still producing tomatoes, thanks to the warmer winter.” Van Zyl also said it was strange that, despite the warmer winter, ZZ2 had experienced significantly lower pressure from powdery mildew and insect pests than last winter.