The ongoing drought in South Africa looks set to cause a year-on-year drop in table grape production of between 7-13%, but the initial crop estimate is still slightly above the five-year average.
In its first crop forecast of the 2017-18 season, association the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI) gave a high of 63 million 4.5-kg-equivalent cartons and a low of 58.9 million, compared to last year’s 67.6 million.
The average crop over the last five seasons stands at 57.9 million cartons.
SATI said the campaign had started “quite normally” from the earliest Northern Provinces region, which, along with the Orange River region, are described as being unaffected by the drought and estimated to have a slightly bigger harvest than last season.
The Orange River region, which is this year expected to be the biggest production area, is expected to start at least one week later than usual.
“Although the Western Cape, with its three production regions is affected by the persistent drought, the effect on the estimate at a national level is expected to be less pronounced,” SATI said.
“This expectation is ascribed to the climatically diverse industry, increased hectares in production, the continued shift to higher yielding new generation varieties and the resilience and adaptation of table grape farmers.”
The Olifants River, Berg River and Hex River regions are expected to have lower volumes, albeit in line with the five-year average crop sizes for each region.
“SATI however cautions that it is still too early to predict what the full effect of the drought and any changes in the weather will ultimately have on the crop of the two later regions of the Berg River and Hex River,” the organisation said.
The association’s CEO Willem Bestbier said producers would firstly ensure that all programmes and contracted business were satisfied while the continued focus would be on the country’s quality offering.
In a GAIN report at the end of October, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast South Africa table grape production to decrease by 14% year-on-year based on the reduction in area harvested and small fruit size in the Western Cape growing regions.
However, it said this decrease was partially offset by the higher yielding new generation varieties, as well as normal production and growing conditions in the Orange River growing regions.
The scenario will result in a 15% year-on-year decrease in exports to 258,000 metric tonnes (MT), it said.