The South African 2018/19 avocado season has begun and it looks as if it will not repeat the “astronomical increase” in crop size of the previous season. Fresh Plaza has reported that this year’s crop will be roughly 30% less in volume but this figure could perhaps be adjusted upwards at a later stage.

AgriOrbit spoke to Derek Donkin, CEO of SubTrop to find out about what we can expect from this year’s avocado harvest. Donkin said the initial estimate for the season is between 15.5 million and 16 million equivalent 4kg cartons. “This is a huge drop in the size of the crop, around 6 million cartons less, which can mostly be attributed to poor weather conditions,” he added.

There is however no lack of optimism in the avocado industry. According to Donkin, spirits are high among avocado growers in the Cape. They hope not to share in the expected 30% drop experienced by growers in the rest of the country, largely due to new plantings and summer temperatures which have ranged around optimal avocado growth conditions.

An overall lower supply may also mean better prices. “Total supply from all countries of origin to our major export market the EU, which accounts for around 95% of SA exports, is expected to be slightly lower than it was last year. This should have a positive effect on prices,” Donkin explained.

Donkin said the export volume has been estimated at about 66 800 tons. Some of the major importers of South Africa’s avocados include the Netherlands, the UK, Spain and Namibia.

Data from the International Trade Centre (ITC) shows that China’s imports increased at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17,8% between 2001 and 2017. During the same period, South Africa’s avocado exports to China grew at a CAGR of 20%, from 9 tons in 2001 to 200 tons in 2017.

Speaking on the challenges that could affect this year’s harvest Donkin said: “There has been hail in some production regions, but the extent to which this will affect export packout is not yet known.” The heat wave during early summer across much of the country, at a critical period when some varieties were setting fruit, has also led to incidences of fruit drop, particularly on Hass and Hass types.

AgriOrbit will report back on the avocado harvest later in the year.  – Ntswaki Motaung, AgriOrbit