SOUTH AFRICA – The prolonged and wet winter in the Western Cape has led to a delayed blueberry harvest, creating uncertainties around yield projections, and prompting industry leaders to adapt to dynamic market conditions.

Brent Walsh, CEO of Berries ZA, acknowledges the challenges posed by the unpredictable ripening delay, stating, “If we look at our northern territories where blueberries are produced, we do have a shortage because they’ve now closed off their season.”

“We’re looking at about an average of around 15% shortage on production in our northern territories. But we are yet to see the final yields that are coming out of the Western Cape where most of our production sits.”

Despite the challenges, there is optimism regarding the quality of the produce, even though projections hint at a reduction from the initial 25,000-tonne export estimate.

Walsh further noted that the price points they have been getting on the sales and marketing fronts in terms of the programs they have signed up for have been very satisfactory, which is a direct result of the shortage in the market from Peru not being able to service its markets as expected.

The scarcity from Peru has led to heightened global demand, positively impacting prices. This trend extends to Chile, where a 13% reduction in blueberry production is anticipated, creating favorable market conditions for South African growers.

Walsh highlighted the shift in transportation methods, stating, “We’ve seen a much higher percentage of air freight coming out of South Africa. So, that’s also taken a little bit of pressure off the sea-freight logistics.”

“Up to two weeks ago, we saw a 50-50 split between sea freight and air freight, which is quite significant given the time of the season, because normally the sea freight far outweighs air freight.”

He emphasizes that this shift is due to market pricing accommodating the option for air freight, ensuring quicker delivery to market, and maintaining freshness, benefitting both producers and consumers.

The Cape Town Container Terminal (CTCT) has made significant progress in clearing its backlog, alleviating delays that vessels were experiencing.

Managing Executive Andiswa Dlanga of Western Cape Transnet Port Terminals reported that as of November 28, the backlog had been cleared.

Market demand and export prospects

The demand for blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries continues to rise steadily in both local and export markets.

South Africa is actively negotiating market access to India, with discussions underway for potential engagement with Canada. The East Asian market, particularly China, presents a promising opportunity for South Africa.

Dialogues with Chinese retailers and importers reveal a notable enthusiasm for South African blueberries. This heightened interest positions the country favorably in the dynamic and burgeoning East Asian market, reflecting potential for significant market penetration and growth.

As the South African blueberry season unfolds, the industry faces challenges with resilience and strategic foresight.

The delayed harvest and global market trends have not deterred the industry’s commitment to delivering quality produce.

While uncertainties persist, the South African blueberry industry remains poised for success in the global market, adapting to challenges and capitalizing on emerging opportunities.

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