The Eastern Cape’s Langkloof, one of South Africa’s prime top fruit producing areas, has had its best rain in two years and farmers are heaving a big sigh of relief.

Rainfall in the Kloof during the months of October to November varied between around 50mm to over 100mm in some areas. In places like Krakeel, Joubertina, Louterwater and Misgund many farm dams look significantly better than before, with some dams even at 100% capacity. However, the Kromrivier (Churchill) Dam near Kareedouw stands at 19% while the Kouga Dam, vital to citrus farmers in the Gamtoos Valley, is still only 12% full. The dam is last in line for runoff from rain after the smaller dams up river, which illustrates how little rain has been falling in this part of the country over the past 12 months.

In places where rain didn’t fall in sufficient quantity to create runoff, at least the soil is at field capacity which will be a boon for tree health. Before the rain, soil moisture was very low and irrigation for the new season became a significant challenge.

“The rain helps tremendously with the irrigation load. Farmers are approaching irrigation in an increasingly scientific way, focusing on new plantings and on high-yield orchards,” says Jaco Engelbrecht of the Langkloof Fruit Producers’ Association.

Follow-up rain would be ideal, although nothing is predicted for the immediate future. Rain at the end of November isn’t an impossibility in the Langkloof.

The Langkloof, primarily known for its pomefruit, is harvesting some apricots, peaches and plums at the moment, but the first pears will only be picked shortly after New Year. In tune with the rest of the country, here too there is expansion into blueberries.

The general consensus is that the pear season in the Langkloof looks excellent, but the apple season less so. Fruit set wasn’t great, probably as a function of the drought and cool weather during the period of pollination.

At this early stage it is very difficult to quantify the decrease to be expected in apples; a speculative figure of 10% is mentioned by some.

Driving through the valley, one sees no shortage of newly planted orchards. New orchards include Cripps Red and Rosy Glow and the brand new blushed pear Celina, an early variety. Old stalwarts like Forelle and Packham’s are also being replanted.

As in the Boland, some older and marginal orchards have been removed, a rejuvenation process that occurs as a matter of fact but one that has been accelerated by the drought.

According to Hortgro’s 2016 figures, the Langkloof accounts for 4,025ha (Langkloof East) and 546ha (Langkloof West) of South Africa’s apple acreage. As for pears, Langkloof East holds 1,736ha and Langkloof West 121ha.

Author: Carolize Jansen,