SOUTH AFRICA – The South African blueberry industry is optimistic as the 2024 season begins, anticipating a 10% growth in exports.

Industry experts predict the country will achieve its target of 25,000 tons of blueberries this year, a significant increase from last year’s exports of just over 22,000 tons.

The Western Cape Province continues to dominate blueberry production in South Africa, accounting for over 60% of the country’s output. Other key regions include Limpopo and the North West.

The Western Cape is expected to ramp up its harvest in the second half of the year, which will drive the bulk of the exports.

Last year, the industry faced challenges due to a prolonged wet winter and delayed harvests, particularly in the Western Cape.

These conditions impacted the picking and packing processes, leading to lower-than-expected exports. Brent Walsh, CEO of Berries ZA, highlighted the impact of these difficult conditions, saying, “Difficult conditions during the harvest slowed down picking and packing.”

South Africa is working to finalize trade agreements with India, which could open new markets and pave the way for future exports to other countries like China.

Walsh emphasized the importance of these new trade relationships, stating, “Our long-term forecast is still for considerable growth, and that is why we are keen to get access to the consumer markets of the East, and India is one example.”

According to the South African Berry Producers Association (SABPA), the country’s blueberry production has increased by 39% per year since 2008.

South African blueberry exports typically peak in October and November, with most of the produce destined for international markets rather than local consumption.

The 2023-24 Southern Hemisphere blueberry season brought several surprises due to the El Niño phenomenon, which affected production cycles.

In Peru, for instance, the lack of winter chilling hours resulted in significantly lower early-season exports. By early November, Peru’s exports were down by 40% compared to the previous year. However, Peru managed to recover in the latter part of the season, shipping large quantities from January to March.

Despite these challenges, the global demand for blueberries remained strong, leading markets to seek alternative suppliers. Countries like Chile, South Africa, Argentina, and Uruguay capitalized on this opportunity, although they could not fully compensate for Peru’s initial shortfall.

South Africa, despite weather-related setbacks, exported 21,000 tons of blueberries this season, a 12% decrease from the previous year.

However, smaller suppliers like Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay saw significant increases in their exports, benefiting from the favorable market conditions.

Argentina increased its exports by 50%, shipping 6,400 tons, while Colombia and Uruguay also saw substantial growth, exporting 420 and 320 tons respectively, marking increases of 54% and 70%.

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