In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck planted the first grapes in the Cape of Good Hope and pressed the first ‘Hanepoot’ and ‘Muscadel’ varieties on 2 February 1659. All the early governors were mainly interested in wine production and it was not until 1886 that the first attempt to export table grapes to the United Kingdom was undertaken.
Today, South Africa is the third largest producer of table grapes in the Southern Hemisphere after Chile and Peru. Globally, South Africa is the ninth largest producer and the fifth largest exporter of table grapes.
Thanks to its five production regions, South Africa can supply the international and domestic market from November to May.
Only a small portion of total production is earmarked for the domestic market. To meet out-of-season demand (June to mid-October), South Africa imports more than 5 000 tonnes of grapes annually from Israel, Egypt and Spain.
South Africa’s cultivar profile has changed in recent years to reflect consumers’ preference for seedless grapes. Some of the top cultivars exported to more than 60 countries are ‘Crimson Seedless’, ‘Prime’, ‘Thomson Seedless’, ‘Red Globe’ and ‘Flame Seedless’.
Apart from figs, table grapes are still regarded as the most profitable fresh fruit to market per kilogram. However, production costs are high as grapes are a labour intensive crop and susceptible to many pests and pre- and post-harvest diseases.
“With the exception of the hugely dominant Chile, the South African table grape industry significantly outperforms other Southern Hemisphere role-players.”
– Prof. Johan van Rooyen, Department of Agricultural Economics, Stellenbosch University
- History first record grape cultivation during the Neolithic era (6 000 to 6 500 BC) around the Caspian Sea.
- It takes three years for a table grape vine to become fully productive.
- The average economic lifespan of a commercial table gape vineyard varies between 15 and 30 years.
- South Africa exports more than 59 million 4,5kg equivalent cartons of table grapes per season, accounting for more than 6% of table grape exports globally.
- The difference in climate between the local production areas, together with the wide range of early- and late-maturing cultivars, gives South Africa a long production season that runs from week 44 to week 18.
- The eating quality of South African table grapes is considered among the best in the world.
- The local table grape industry employs around 10 800 permanent workers, and an additional 42 000 seasonal workers at harvest time.
- The total annual value of the local industry (exports and local sales) is more than R5
Sustainability requirements are also onerous. For example, a grower wanting to supply three European retailers could end up having to comply with more than 900 requirements imposed by both global standards bodies and retailers’ own certification schemes.
Despite the competitive nature of the international fruit industry, South African table grapes remain highly sought after. As long as exporters and stakeholders in the industry follow the basic rules of supplying consistent quality, led by the demands of each market segment, managing the cost chain, building solid relationships and maintaining market access, the long-term outlook for the future of the table grape industry is positive.
RESEARCH PROJECTS 2014-2017
- Table grape loss reduction technology.
The well-known management dictum that what gets measured gets managed, is the principle at play in a study that seeks to answer critical post-harvest questions in the table grape industry.
Read article: Why, and where, good grapes go bad
RESEARCH PROJECTS 2011-2014
- The production of antimicrobial lipopeptides by Bacillus subtilis for biological control of post-harvest spoilage organisms.
Mould on fruit and vegetables is bad. The aggressive, destructive fungi causing it are ugly. Enter Bacillus subtilis, the hero that rescues fresh produce from death and decay.
Read article: The good, the bad, the ugly
- Good cold chain practice.
Easier said than done when you are a pear or a bunch of grapes en route from the farm to a supermarket in a foreign country. One break in the chain that holds your looks and flavour together and you could be heading for the compost heap instead of the kitchen table.
Read article: Be cool, man!