By Kyra-Kay Rensburg
In the uncertainty of life, the one thing we can be sure of is change.
That was the theme of the Cherry Associations annual general meeting, which took place on 27 July 2022 in Paarl. Hortgro Cherries chairperson, Arno Marais, said that change is not always easy, but it is the people and the businesses that view change as an opportunity and that can adapt, which stay ahead, and this is what Hortgro Cherries tries to achieve.
Cherry Industry Overview
Over the last five years, the area planted under cherries has increased by 77%, with 24 producers farming on 33 farm units, according to Nina Viljoen, economist at Hortgro. According to Viljoen, the area planted in the next five to six years could expand by 90% to 1035 ha.
Cherry production areas include the Western Cape, Free State, North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo. The Western Cape is the largest area under cherries – 66% of all plantings. Of the 66%, 84% are situated in Ceres and 16% in Worcester. A large portion of South Africa’s cherry orchards are still reasonably young, 64% are five years or younger and not in full production.
Although production over the past few years has fluctuated, the 2020/2021 season saw a sharp 60% increase in production compared to the previous season. Meaning that 900 tons of cherries were produced in 2020/2021, 300 tons more than in 2019/2020.
South Africa’s main export market is the United Kingdom, with very little exported also to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and Asia. Recently a rise in exports to the Middle East was noted. In the 2020/2021 season, 8% was exported to the Middle East, and in the 2021/2022 season, 27% was exported. South Africa exports the largest volume to the UK, whereas Chile and Argentina largely export to the Far East and Asia and the United States. In 2021/2022, Chile exported 92% to the Far East and Asia. Chile is currently the main cherry exporter of the world exporting 38%. South Africa comes in 29th, exporting only 0,1%.
What makes the perfect cherry?
Tanith Freeman, DuToit Agri presented a four-piece puzzle of the perfect cherry. The four puzzle pieces are terroir and variety match; nursery and tree quality; production practices; and harvesting and packing.
However, this is subject to the eye of the beholder, the beholder being the grower, nurseryman, production manager, packhouse manager and right at the end, the consumer.
There has been a huge increase in new genetics coming into South Africa. From 2011 to 2021, 460 varieties/selections were imported into South Africa. It is positive with regard to the huge gene pool to pick from, but this can also increase the risk of determining which is the right variety to pick.
South Africa is not traditionally a cherry-growing area. If we’re looking at the grower as the eye of the beholder, Freeman suggested the grower understand and know their farm and the variety’s genetics as they must match if the two do not correctly match the product will not result in the perfect cherry. There is no one size fits all strategy, Freeman explained that growers need to look at labour availability as cherry harvesting is very labour intensive and decide from the perspective of the grower what will produce the best cherries.
When we put all those puzzle pieces together, hopefully, you get a happy consumer.
The perfect cherry in the eye of the consumer is a premium product. If you want a premium product you need to put in the premium effort. Starting with genetics, and everything going out with that. The perfect cherry is big, firm, sweet, and fresh and it makes the consumer happy when they eat it. This is achieved when one does everything on the chain correctly.
Caption: At the back, Christiaan Rabe, Derick van Zyl, Koos Pretorius. In front, Gert Eastes, Arno Marais (chairman), Gerrit Higgo.