Drought af­fects fruit har­vests and jobs in W Cape

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS NEWS - Joseph Booy­sen

THE EF­FECT of the drought in the Western Cape could have a ma­jor im­pact on em­ploy­ment in the prov­ince’s fruit pro­duc­ing re­gions if con­di­tions should not im­prove soon.

This is ac­cord­ing to Terry Gale, the chair­per­son of Ex­porters Club Western Cape.

Gale was re­spond­ing to a state­ment from Hort­gro, which said that the continued drought con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced in the ma­jor pome fruit pro­duc­tion ar­eas had im­pacted neg­a­tively on pome fruit ex­port vol­umes.

“The Western Cape is sit­ting on a precipice in view of the pro­longed drought, which is now af­fect­ing the pome fruit ex­port, an­tic­i­pated to be an av­er­age of 19 per­cent less for the ap­ple and 10.5 per­cent less for the pear mar­ket than fore­cast.

“This will have a ma­jor im­pact on em­ploy­ment in the fruit pro­duc­ing ar­eas of El­gin/ Grabouw and Ceres, where most of the fruit is grown and the farms pro­vide em­ploy­ment for these com­mu­ni­ties. The cur­rent fore­cast for the next sea­sons also ap­pears to be a neg­a­tive growth fac­tor, un­less the drought is bro­ken and the farms be­come sus­tain­able again.” Europe, the ma­jor sup­ply stream for South Africa’s ex­ports, was in a po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tain pe­riod due to Brexit and its un­known af­fect on trade.

He said, how­ever, that this could be­come a pos­i­tive fac­tor as the UK might be obliged to buy larger vol­umes from South Africa, in case of any trade em­bar­goes from EU coun­tries. “We can only hope that the heav­ens open and fill our dams, so we can ful­fil our or­ders and open the door to new mar­kets.”

Ag­biz agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist, Wandile Sihlobo, said there were ini­tial con­cerns around the im­pact of El Niño, but over the next three months or so South Africa could get good rain­fall through the rest of the coun­try.

Sihlobo said the de­cline in the pro­duc­tion mir­rored the 2015 drought, but things could nor­malise. He said ex­ports might not see a big de­cline, be­cause the weaker rand im­proved the global com­pet­i­tive­ness of South Africa’s ex­ports.

Karabo Takadi, an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist at AgriBusi­ness and Absa Re­tail and busi­ness bank, said that the on­go­ing dry con­di­tions in the Western Cape might have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the fruit sea­son as the un­favourable con­di­tions were likely to lead to a be­low av­er­age qual­ity crop and pos­si­bly lower yields.

“Should the qual­ity of the crops be in­fe­rior, we may see fewer ex­ports and it may be ex­pected that fruit for lo­cal pro­cess­ing may in­crease as a re­sult. The strength­en­ing of the rand against ma­jor cur­ren­cies over the past few months may also have added to the pres­sure on ex­port prices.”

Takadi said farmers who pro­duced a sur­plus in com­modi­ties for ex­port mar­kets nor­mally ben­e­fited from a weaker rand.

“How­ever, the rand has since de­pre­ci­ated against the cur­ren­cies in the last few weeks.”

Jac­ques du Preez, a gen­eral man­ager for trade and mar­kets at Hort­gro the agency rep­re­sent­ing the fruit in­dus­try in the Western Cape, said de­spite chal­leng­ing cli­matic con­di­tions, the ini­tial pome fruit crop es­ti­mate an­tic­i­pated a 5 per­cent growth in ex­port vol­umes, mainly be­cause of new orchards com­ing into pro­duc­tion.

“How­ever as the har­vest­ing sea­son pro­gressed the in­dus­try re­alised that the an­tic­i­pated vol­umes are not go­ing to ma­te­ri­alise as fruit size in gen­eral and pack-out of fruit on tree were af­fected by a com­bi­na­tion of drought and heat­wave con­di­tions. Cur­rently vol­umes in stor­age com­bined with ex­ports to date led to the down­ward ad­just­ment for pome fruit ex­port car­tons.”

Du Preez said newly cal­cu­lated vol­umes in­di­cates a de­crease of be­tween -6 per­cent and -9 per­cent com­pared to the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

He said a de­crease in ex­port vol­umes of Golden De­li­cious, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Fuji can di­rectly be at­trib­uted to weather con­di­tions im­pact­ing on colour devel­op­ment, fruit size and pack-outs.

Du Preez said pear ex­port vol­umes are also down on ini­tial pro­jec­tions with the de­crease of Wil­liams Bon Chretin by -5 per­cent be­cause of smaller fruit size, good de­mand from the can­ning in­dus­try and a lack in de­mand from the North­ern Hemi­sphere im­port­ing coun­tries.

He said Pack­hams Tri­umph, Abate Fe­tel and Ver­mont Beauty were also down com­pared to last year. “On the con­trary, ex­port vol­umes of Forelle are in line with the pre­vi­ous sea­son. A tough sea­son in terms of grower re­turns and prof­itabil­ity levels is an­tic­i­pated.”

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A worker picks ap­ples in an or­chard. This year’s har­vest has been se­verely af­fected by drought.

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