Heavy rainfall in the Northern Cape has gladdened the hearts of most in this arid area, but for the table grape producers in the Orange River region, it has come at an inopportune time with a third of the table grape crop still to be harvested.
It rained between 75 to 100mm in Kakamas. Non-perennial streams feeding into the Orange River have come to life with the rain, but the river itself is not in flood. The rain is vital to the drought-stricken Kalahari and its livestock farmers, but it is awkward timing for grape growers.
“This is bad news for us because up until now, the Orange River region has packed only approximately 65% of the crop. Later regions like Augrabies, Kanoneiland, Upington, and Kakamas usually pack into the first week of February,” says Alwyn Dippenaar, chairperson of the Orange River Producers Association.
“There’s definitely a lot of damage, but it is still far too wet to see exactly how much. Only when it is drier will we be able to move around in the vineyards and assess the extent of it. No cultivar can escape damage with such an amount of rain.”
Possible escape for latest cultivars
Dippenaar points out that it is possible that damage to the cultivars that have not yet coloured and only start ripening from mid-January, could be minimal, but only after 48 hours of sunshine will they be able to form an accurate evaluation of the impact of the rain. In addition, it will negatively affect the raisin industry.
However, he adds, buyers should be careful not to conflate the rain in the Orange River region with the grape harvest just kicking off in Western Cape regions, like Piketberg and Paarl, at least 600km away to the south.
“There are high volumes of grapes coming from the Western Cape that have not been affected.”
Dippenaar notes that there will be no picking or packing for at least the next two days, which means a loss of 60% of the week’s capacity.
Humidity in vineyards under plastic could be a problem
Magdalena du Plessis of organic grape producer Carpe Diem in Upington says it has not rained like this in many years.
“Weeks one, two and three are still big packing periods for us. It truly is a sad situation. We have been fortunate with minimal rain in the early season up until now. A rainy season was predicted, but we did not expect this! We do need it; there has been a drought for many, many years.”
Currently, Thompsons, Timco, Sweet Celebration™, Sweet Globe™, Allison, and Scarlotta Seedless are due to be harvested in the Orange River area. – Carolize Jansen, Fresh Plaza