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Impact of drought on SA fruit industry

May 12 2017 16:54
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The drought has and will continue to impact the agricultural sector as a whole, according to Roelf Pienaar, managing director of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest marketer of South African apples and pears.

He gave Fin24 an overview of the current state of the SA fruit industry.

"Fortunately, for many Tru-Cape growers early water saving measures have reduced reliance on water more than ever before," said Pienaar.

Two-a-Day, one of Tru-Cape’s shareholders, has, for instance, year-to-date reduced water use with new pack house technology, while growers have invested in the latest irrigation and moisture measuring equipment so they only irrigate when it is essential to do so.

"Tru-Cape is always looking at varieties that perform better and these include earlier varieties that are harvested in January or February rather than later in April or May. The longer the fruit remain on the tree, the more water is required," explained Pienaar.

"That said, there is a balance between having fruit that stores well so that our customers can have a good eating experience up to November and December too."

He added that Tru-Cape growers have revolutionised farming and irrigation practices to make the best use of an increasingly scarce resource. These include better root stocks that don’t spread as much, so watering closer to the stem is sufficient.

Other new technologies include the use of regulated deficient irrigation (RDI) technology that irrigates below the optimum level by reducing water in the first 40 days after bloom, during which time the tree is able to use its own resources without becoming too stressed.

This and variable speed drive (VSD) pumps mean higher-lying areas can now be irrigated with far less electricity to pump water to reach them, while lower areas can make full use of gravity.

The VSD system and the probes Tru-Cape growers use to measure moisture inside the soil work in harmony to irrigate more efficiently and to also act as an early-warning system for pipe failure or leaks.

Tru-Cape expects a similar size crop to last year, but is asking customers to embrace the smaller fruit which is a result of the high summer temperatures and dry conditions.

READ: Tru-Cape cherry season delivers high value returns


According to Pienaar, SA has a very strong local market which serves Tru-Cape very well.

"Africa is very important for us. Especially Nigeria and increasingly East Africa is growing in importance. Europe is invaluable for due to its demand for our pears, while the UK continues to be a strong export market along with the Middle East and Far East," said Pienaar.

"All our customers want better coloured fruit and expect the right quality on the shelf. We’ve learned over the years that better colour sells, but we have the responsibility to the growers to market the full bin. Apples and pears are natural and living things and we hope our customers understand that our factory doesn’t have a roof on it."

Some years ago Tru-Cape introduced a social-media campaign, #UglyPretty to help increase the tolerance for fruit that was marked by hail stones.
"The climate we are currently experiencing is not optimal for apple and pear production and, like many other agricultural products, our fruit will not be as cosmetically attractive as in previous seasons," he added.

"We feel our responsibility for the 15 200 people that rely on Tru-Cape to achieve the best prices for our growers’ fruit very keenly and know that the best way to secure a positive future for all in South Africa is to produce fruit that the market wants."

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south africa  |  fruit  |  agribusiness  |  agriculture


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