Table grape volumes expected to decline

The South African Table Grape Industry (SATI) expects volumes of table grapes for exporting to decrease by almost 8% in the 2022/23 season, down from the previous season’s 77,7 million 4,5kg-equivalent cartons to about 71,7 million.

Table grape volumes expected to decline
The cost price squeeze is one of the biggest challenges for producers.
Photo: FW Archive
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However, this was still above the five-year average of 64 million cartons exported. AJ Griesel, CEO of SATI, attributed the predicted lower volumes to the almost 1% decrease in area planted to the crop, which was now 20 380ha. The hectarage dedicated to full-bearing vineyards also fell by 1% to just over 18 760ha.

He added that other contributing factors were an increased focus on crop-load management and quality to accommodate anticipated travel times to markets, as well as a larger proportion of grapes being supplied to the local and international raisin markets.

Production in the Orange River and northern production regions was expected to drop by 12% to 17%, while in the Olifants, Berg and Hex River Valley regions it was expected to drop 4% to 6%.

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Griesel said the Orange River region had experienced warm spring weather, which enhanced table grape development, but resulted in a slightly smaller-than-anticipated crop. Parts of this region had also experienced localised flooding towards the end of November 2022, although no major damage was reported.

In general, the other production regions had experienced good weather, with forecasts pointing to largely dry conditions for most of the picking season, Griesel said.

He identified rolling blackouts and the cost price squeeze as amongst the biggest challenges for table grape producers.

“Margins have tightened due to lower prices earned per carton, coupled with rising input costs over the past five years. Average prices earned before freight costs have shown low to negative compound annual growth since 2017.”

Griesel stressed that current price levels were unsustainable, and this sentiment was echoed by producers in other Southern Hemisphere countries.

Meanwhile, Anton Viljoen Jr, chairperson of SATI and a farmer in the Hex River Valley region, said that the EU and UK markets, which together accounted for 76% of table grape exports, had relatively low stock levels during December 2022, with volumes expected to increase from January 2023 as more regions went into production.

He expressed concern that supermarket chains in the UK and EU had not yet fixed prices at the time of writing.

“[There seem to be fears] that consumer spending might be down. We would [therefore] have to look at other markets such as Asia and the Middle East to reduce pressure on the EU and UK [markets],” he said.