The very first apples from South Africa are locally developed, heat tolerant varieties grown in Limpopo Province, but in ten to fourteen days’ time, commercially important varieties like Royal Gala will be packed in the eastern Free State, followed by red apples soon thereafter. The inland apple harvest is earlier than the Cape harvest and opens South Africa’s export campaign.
It has been a difficult run-up to the harvest, with heat wave conditions during November and December, bringing temperatures in this high-altitude, traditionally cool part of the country to the high thirties.
These days all productive orchards are under hail netting, which also limits sunburn. Rainfall for December 2018 has been less than half of the previous December, but recent good rain (although dam levels are still low) and current cooler weather could improve the prospects for colour development.
Coupled with the heat and hail, there were also two late cold spells, not unusual in this part of the country, but coming particularly late this year, at the beginning and again at the end of September, which affected first the flowering buds and then the flowers themselves. There are reports of some apple orchards in Mpumalanga with “small and scruffy” apples due to adverse climatic conditions.
It is reported that the Mpumalanga apple-producing area comprising Ermelo, Amersfoort, Volksrust, Carolina and Morgenson, fruit size could be of some concern.
The local market is empty and there is reportedly some concern among buyers regarding the quantity and quality of what’s left from last season’s cold storage apples. Currently the only fresh apples on the market are Limpopo-grown local cultivars and some very early (and sometimes very sour) Panorama Goldens from a few orchards down south.
Royal Gala is a very popular cultivar among South African consumers, but despite the emptiness of the market there are conflicting expectations of the price points for the new harvest on the local market.