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Vegetable farmers struggle with low prices and the economic downturn; Western Cape vegetable sector could shrink due to drought

"No tomato farmers are making money"

The warm winter has had a number of effects on vegetable production in South Africa: volumes of red and yellow bell pepper, for which consumer demand is lower than for green pepper, are up because colour development was accelerated under warmer conditions. Prices are lower than usual across almost all vegetable categories at the moment. 

The other positive of the warm winter is that, as André Dippenaar of market agency DW Fresh points out, in the absence of frost, the quality is very good. “The product has the quality of summer produce, except there’s no sunburn, so consumers can currently buy high quality at really affordable prices. But if there’s no change in the weather, there’ll be even more product on the market by October and November.”

Yet business isn’t brisk. “You can definitely see there’s a recession,” he continues.

In the interior of the country, pumpkins and butternut are currently the exception. There’s been a bit of a shortage for the past two weeks, while the market waits for large volumes to start coming in and consequently prices have risen. A 10kg bag sells for approximately R160 (€10.26) at the moment in Gauteng. There have been fewer pumpkin plantings than last year, which is somewhat surprising as prices were high last year, a market agent at Tshwane fresh produce market tells FreshPlaza. It might be a result of tight water supply.

At the Cape Town market there is no shortage of pumpkin and butternut, which can be stored for a few months and prices are lower than in the rest of the country. “The winter was dry and warm and the butternuts kept well, with little frost damage,” says Deon Robberts of RSA market agency in Cape Town. 

At Tshwane butternuts currently go for about R6 (€0.38) a kilogram, at Durban it goes for approximately R7 (€0.44) per kg, compared to R3.50 (€0.22) to R4 (€0.25) per kg in Cape Town.

Tomatoes a "sad story"
Tomatoes is a “sad, sad story”, says a trader in Gauteng. “You should ask the carton manufacturers whether they’re getting paid by the tomato farmers. At the current prices of R20 (€1.28) to R40 (€2.56) per 6kg carton farmers can’t even cover their costs. No tomato farmers are making money at the moment. Prices are always in flux but what’s abnormal about this situation is the long time we’ve now been at this low price, for about two months already.”

Due to the warm winter, tomato producers who would usually have finished the harvest six weeks ago, are still picking.

Carrot prices, high a month ago at R5 - R6 (€0.32 - €0.38) per kg, are now at R2 (€0.12) or R3 (€0.19). Carrot volumes at the Tshwane market have more than doubled since last week; ditto for cucumbers.

Vegetable production in the Western Cape is increasingly being affected by the drought, with many reports of farmers deciding to reduce or even scrap their vegetable production in favour of their fruit production. Half or more of the vegetables sold at the Cape Town market come from the north of the country. 

For more information;
Deon Robberts
RSA Group
Tel: +27 21 531 2097

André Dippenaar
DW Fresh
Tel: +27 12 326 9226
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