Home Industry News Economics South African Table Grape Crop Forecast & Shipments into U.S. Up

South African Table Grape Crop Forecast & Shipments into U.S. Up

The cold and wet winter of 2023 provided favorable conditions for table grapes and aided in improved production volumes. Production is expected to grow and improve in quality from MY 2022/23. Despite pressure on the Port of Cape Town, industry solutions including increased use of Port Elizabeth will bolster the volumes of increased export-quality fruit that is able to reach markets. Post revises MY 2023/24 production of table grapes upwards.

South Africa’s major growing areas for table grapes, include the Hex River which accounts for 32 percent, the Berg River Valley (23 percent), Olifants River (6 percent) in the Western Cape province, the Orange River in the Northern Cape province (29 percent), and Limpopo province (10 percent) in northeastern South Africa (see Figure 8).

According to SATI Tree Census (2023), area planted to table grapes was mostly covered with vines aged between 3-9 years (53 percent), followed by vines aged 10-15 years (20 percent), and new vines younger than 2 years (15 percent). The cultivar profile of table grapes in South Africa has changed significantly over the past decade. Consumers prefer seedless grapes, and, as a result, seeded cultivars are declining while the production of seedless table grapes varieties are growing. Less than 8 percent of current vineyards are still seeded table grapes. New plantings heavily favor three varietals: Autumn Crisp, Sweet Celebration, and Sweet Globe.

Area Planted

Post forecasts that area under table grape production in MY 2023/24 will decline slightly to around 19,500 ha. Stagnation in area planted follows a sharp increase in table grape area from 2012 to 2019 (see Figure 10), mainly driven by growing export earnings. Inefficient port operations, deteriorating road networks, and frequent disruptions to the electricity supply are diminishing the profitability of table grape producers in South Africa and limiting new investments in the industry.

Producers saw increased input costs in MY 2023/24 particularly for fuel, electricity, and labor. Cost of fertilizer and chemicals have eased but remain above price levels prior to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. According to the industry association, the biggest direct cost component for producers is labor cost, which makes up almost 55 percent of total direct cost. The South African Department of Employment and Labor published a new national minimum wage of R27,58 ($1.48) per hour as of March 1, 2024, an 8 percent increase from R25,42 ($1.36) in 2023. However, Post contact confirm that labor cost in relation to total costs have gone down over the years.

In MY 2022/23, the area under production declined by 3 percent to 19,788 ha. The Northern Cape region recorded the largest decline in area planted due to changing weather condition and increases in production costs.

Production

Post revises table grape production in South Africa upwards to 370,000 MT in MY 2023/24, a 16 percent hike following low yields in MY 2022/23 due to unfavorable weather conditions. The winter in 2023 (for MY 2023/24 production) in table grape producing regions was characterized by low temperatures, which is ideal during the dormancy cycle and aided in good berry size, coloring, and quality. These conditions also lowered pest pressure. Although localized hail was reported in the Hex River production region, it did not significantly affect national table grape production. Additionally, production volumes were supported by newer cultivars coming into production. The production season in MY 2023/24 ended about 2 weeks earlier than usual, due to changing weather patterns and rains received in the Hex River production region during mid-late season. This led to lighter than usual production on late cultivars.

In MY 2022/23, table grape production dropped by 16 percent to 318,000 MT after a record crop of 380,000 MT produced in MY 2021/22 (see Figure 11). This is based on a marginal reduction in production area and adverse weather conditions, particularly in the Orange River area. Although table grape production areas consolidated, in MY 2021/22 record crop was achieved by new higher yielding cultivars coming into full production and favorable weather conditions during the season.

Consumption

South Africa’s table grape industry is mainly export-orientated, with more than 85 percent of production destined for foreign markets. The supply of table grapes to the domestic market is dependent on exports, with table grapes that do not meet export quality standards being sold to the domestic fresh produce market or supplied to processors. As a result, for MY 2023/24, Post forecasts revises domestic consumption downwards to 39,000 MT, decreasing by 15 percent compared to MY 2022/23 based on increased exportable supply. Additionally, table grapes are mainly consumed by upper middle-income and affluent consumers. Increased exports are putting downward pressure on local table grape consumption.

Figure 12 shows average price of table grape in 16 wholesale fresh produce markets across South Africa. Price trend mirrors seasonality, as prices remain elevated during the off-season due to relatively lower supply in the market.

In MY 2022/23 domestic consumption is estimated to have dropped by 15 percent based on a dip in production coupled with domestic inflationary pressure. As a result, consumers substituted higher-cost exotic fruits for lower-priced fruit “staples” such as apples.

Exports

Post revises MY 2023/24 table grapes exports upwards to 340,000 MT, showing a 20 percent hike on expected improvement in export quality production. Exports are also supported by a weaker exchange rate against the U.S. dollar and lower freight costs compared to MY 2022/23.

Traditionally approximately 90 percent of South Africa’s table grapes exports move through the Port of Cape Town, and 6 percent through the Port of Durban. Port of Cape Town experienced some wind and fog delays including 2 significant delays experienced during the MY 2023/24 export season that impacted over 20,000 MT. Port inefficiency present a significant threat to table grape exports as significant delays for the highly perishable product were reported. While these delays did not have a significant impact on volumes exported in MY 2023/24, they impacted profit margins in cases of quality claims, inability to capture early season premiums, and contractual failure on timely deliveries.

As a means to remedy the port crisis, port management, government and the fruit industry engaged on a regular basis to review readiness throughout the export season, port productivity, and implement any remedial action when necessary. In MY 2023/24, some shipping lines diverted vessels from the Port of Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to reduce some pressure. Post contact confirm that about 10.6 percent of table grape exports were shipping through Port Elizabeth. Shipping lanes reported to have been sailing weekly conventional vessels particularly to the EU and UK market, as an additional means to relieve pressure at the Port of Cape Town. Namibian exporters who traditionally export through the Port of Cape Town, shipped about 21 percent of table grape exports through Walvis Bay Port. The topmost exported cultivars in MY 2023/24 are Crimson Seedless, Sweet Globe, Sweet Celebration, Prime and Autumn Crisp mirroring overall production.

In MY 2022/23, table grape exports are revised downwards slightly to 283,255 MT, showing a 16 percent drop compared MY 2021/22. A drop is exports is due to a decline in production and challenges at the port. Inefficiencies at the Port of Cape Town and high reefer container prices placed significant pressure on the industry. In February 2023, during the peak of the table grape export season, the Cape Town harbor was closed for about 240 hours due to strong winds, which significantly disrupted operations for this highly perishable product.

Europe is the leading export market for South African table grapes, accounting for about 75 percent of total table grape exports in MY 2022/23. The Netherlands, as the entry point to the European market, is the largest export market for South Africa’s table grapes, accounting for more than 40 percent of total exports. South Africa benefits from a shorter shipping distance to Europe than other Southern Hemisphere competitors, and preferential trade agreements with the EU and United Kingdom. Exports to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa also have strong growth potential and are a core focus for the South African table grape industry. Export volumes to the United States have grown significantly over the past five years, but volumes are still below 6,000 MT, accounting for less than 2 percent of total table grape exports. The main varieties exported to the United States includes Autumn Crisp, Red Seedless, and Adora Seedless.

Imports

South Africa is a net exporter of table grapes. Imports primarily fill the off-season demand from around July to November. Namibia, Egypt, and Spain are the primary suppliers (see Table 9), with both Namibian and Spanish grapes entering the market duty-free. Namibian table grape season starts a few weeks earlier than South Africa’s, and exports are mainly between October and January. Post revises MY 2023/24 imports downwards to 9,000 MT, decreasing by 17 percent from MY 2022/23 due to improved production and expected lower demand by South African consumers. In MY 2022/23, table grape imports increased by 12 percent based on a decline in domestic production.

The United States does not have market access for table grapes into South Africa. However, if access were granted, exports would be subject to a 4 percent customs duty, as shown in Table 10. — By Masego Moobi and Amy Caldwell, USDA Foreign Ag Service

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