South Africa’s blueberry season has come to a close, and it is one that many farmers would prefer to forget, with the negative repercussions expected to be felt for years to come as many face financial ruin.
Elzette Schutte, operations manager of Berries ZA, told Farmer’s Weekly that at the start of the season in September last year, the industry had high hopes for a good year.
Exports were expected to reach 25 000t, up from nearly 21 000t the previous year. Logistics had also started to rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.
A Transnet labour strike crippled South Africa’s ports in November during peak export season, it effectively shut down the export market. This meant that fruit had to be diverted to the local market since airfreight was too costly.
Prices in the South African market were under pressure when the market was flooded with berries. Farmers can’t survive on the prices they were achieving for the berries.
Blueberry prices globally were also on a downward trend due to increasing volumes. The US Department of Agriculture reported towards the end of last year that prices had been slipping year after year due to the copious volumes coming in from Peru and other countries.
South African blueberries arriving late in Europe due to the strike action were also met with high volumes from Peru and Chile, which led to prices averaging about R30/kg.