The UK’s reliance on apples from South Africa is likely to wane in the coming year because of inflation and other factors, according to a new world trade report on apples, pears and table grapes from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The USDA says “shipping delays” combined with stagnation on investment because of increased costs are two major factors in its downgrade. Production in South Africa is estimated to fall by 70,000 tonnes (to 1.1 million), and exports will take a sharp hit, less 65,000 tonnes (to 560,000) on “dampening demand.”
A year ago, there was a 9% increase in apple and pear exports to the UK from South Africa, despite the rough combination of Brexit and the pandemic. Volumes were great then and the economic situation not as dire. But at the time, Jacques du Preez, Hortgro’s general manager for trade and markets, warned that “consumer spending is under pressure so it will remain a challenge.”
Record harvests, the USDA says, have given way to conditions at ports “compromising fruit quality and thus fruit value. Planted area is expected to stagnate on limited investments as grower profits shrink.”
South Africa is one of the top markets for exports of apples to the UK, along with France, New Zealand Italy and Chile, with Poland on the rise. The Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand signed in late 2021 appeared to open the pipeline for increased apple exports, but weather and shipping factors have tempered those hopes for now. British apple growers also have faced numerous struggles, including weather, labour and cost increases.
Many UK apple varieties, including the top one Gala, saw declines in production from 2020 to 2021. The lone outlier was Braeburn, which saw only a nominal increase. However, over the past five years, Gala still has grown exponentially. Bramley and Cox, lesser players in the UK apple market, have seen sharp decreases in the past year and since 2017.
Table grapes report
Meanwhile, there is good news on the fresh table grape front, with world production set to rise by 1.2 million tonnes to 27.4 million in 2022-23, according to the USDA. This represents a 7% increase year-on-year.
Good growing conditions boost output in China and Turkey, offsetting losses in Chile and India, according to the report. EU production is forecast up 14% to 1.6 million tonnes for the upcoming period. This is mostly attributed to good fruit set in Italy, as well as new seedless varieties coming into production in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
China’s production is also projected up, with an almost 13% increase year-on-year. The Asian giant is up 620,000 tonnes to 12.6 million as good growing conditions improved yield and quality.
Chilean production is set to continue its long term decline after last year’s rebound, falling 56,000 tonnes to 737,000.
Abundant rainfall in the South American country is expected to only partially mitigate losses from continued reduced acreage across all regions as growers continue to switch to more profitable crops such as cherries and walnuts.
Despite higher supplies, USDA states that global imports are expected to ease slightly to 3.5 million tonnes on reduced demand from the EU and China. EU exports are forecast down 13,000 tonnes to 160,000 as high freight and transportation costs encourage more intra-EU trade.
However, world exports are revised up 149,000 tonnes to 3.8 million, according to the USDA’s figures.
Imports are projected up 32,000 tonnes to 745,000 on greater supplies from Peru and surging shipments from Chile at the beginning of the May-April marketing year.
Imports are projected down 77,000 tonnes to 520,000 on lower demand and reduced output in some Southern Hemisphere suppliers.
– Fresh Fruit Portal