Pome fruits are members of the plant family Rosaceae, sub-family pomoideae. They are fruits that have a core of several small seeds, surrounded by a tough membrane. The membrane is, in turn, encased in an edible layer of flesh. Apples and pears are the best known examples of pome fruit; others that are found in South Africa include loquats and quinces.
The history of pome fruit in South Africa dates back to the early 17th century when the world’s first multinational company, the VOC (Dutch United East India Company), decided to start a halfway station at the Cape of Good Hope. The sole purpose of this settlement was to supply ships with fresh meat, vegetables and fruit to combat the effects of scurvy that decimated unfortunate sailors on their long voyages.
It was here in the shadow of Table Mountain where Jan van Riebeeck planted the first apple seeds and where the South African history of fruit production began.
By 1916 three million apple trees had been planted in South Africa and by 1966 five million cases of apples were being exported annually. By then, the industry occupied with the export of fresh fruit, mostly to Europe, was well established.
Today South Africa is one of the major players in the international fruit arena and the local industry is buoyant and growing.
According to an international report, South Africa tops the rankings for fresh fruit production efficiency.
- The word pome is derived from the Latin word pōmum, which means fruit.
- The cultivated apple originated in Central Asia, around Kazakhstan, where its wild ancestor (Malus sylvestris) can still be found today.
- China is responsible for around 48% of global apple production; the USA, where apples were introduced by European colonists, is second with 6%.
- There are over 7 500 known apple varieties.
- Pears are thought to have originated in Central Asia, but have been cultivated in Europe for around 10 000 years.
- Even though the South African pear industry is a small international player, about 50% of our pears are exported.
- South African pear producers grow more pears on less hectares than producers in any other country in the world.
South Africa produces approximately 1,3 million tonnes of apples and pears each year. The total value of the pome fruit production amounts to more than R8 billion, with 92% of this generated by fresh fruit sales.
Some 45% of the total pome fruit production is destined for the export market, with the main destinations being the Far East and Asia, Africa and the EU.
The per capita consumption of apples and pears in South Africa is calculated at 4,12kg and 0,96kg, respectively.
According to the 2015 tree census, 36 322ha pome fruit are established in South Africa, with 81% of these plantings situated in the Western Cape and 17% in the Eastern Cape.
The major cultivated varieties per fruit kind are:
Apples: ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘Royal Gala’. ‘Cripps’ Pink’ showed the most growth in hectares planted over the last five years.
Pears: ‘Packham’s Triumph’, ‘Forelle’ and ‘Williams Bon Chretien’.
RESEARCH PROJECTS 2014-2017
- Identification of factors involved and control of astringency in pears.
Astringency in pears leaves not only an unpleasant taste in consumers’ mouths, it also eats into the viability of a lucrative export industry. Fortunately science is coming to the rescue.
Read article: Eliminating astringencys bite
- Detection and quantification of Botrytis cinerea incidence and severity in harvested pears for the development of a monitoring system to support commercial exports.
By developing a method to detect Botrytis infection before the rot shows itself, the South African pear export industry hopes to boost its reputation and profitability.
Read article: The hunt for Botrytis cinerea
- Non-chemical storage technologies for apple and pear superficial scald prevention.
Controlling superficial scald can be as simple as breathing: the secret lies in striking the right balance between O2 and CO2.
Read article: In-depth solution to superficial scald
- Investigating the potential of ethyl formate fumigation for phytosanitary control of the grain chinch bug on pome and stone fruit.
A bug that lives on grain, but whose hitchhiking habits are causing fresh fruit export consignments to be rejected, has met its match in a fumigant that is enjoying a comeback.
Read article: Vapormate sends grain chinch bug packing
- Post-harvest ‘Forelle’ mealiness development, detected at harvest by CT-X ray scanning and semi-commercial colour pre-sorting influenced by canopy position at harvest as well as pollination.
Where and how pears grow, and how they are harvested and stored, are all clues to the early detection, and even prevention, of a costly post-harvest disorder.
Read article: Can mealiness be nipped in the bud
RESEARCH PROJECTS 2011-2014
- Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere (DCA) as a practical technology.
Technology that monitors the oxygen levels in pears is a breath of fresh air in the quest to prevent superficial scald without the use of chemicals.
Read article: There is life after DPA
- Shedding light on mealiness in ‘Forelle’ pears.
Unlike beauty that is skin-deep, mealiness in pears develops at cellular level. This could be the secret to spotting mealied ‘Forelle’ pears before they reach the consumer.
Read article: The secret’s in the cells
- Reducing post-harvest losses of ‘Triumph’ persimmons.
Persimmon, or Sharon Fruit, is an ancient delicacy that only recently found its way to South African orchards and taste buds. New research is shedding light on how this fruit should be handled.
Read article: Learning exotic ways
- Controlled Atmosphere Temperature Treatment System (CATTS) as a post-harvest treatment for phytosanitary pests of deciduous fruit.
Chemicals are no longer fruit producers’ only defense against pests. By creating conditions under which no insect can survive, new treatments are green and lethal.
Read article: Can’t breath can’t breed
- 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!
- The development and screening of alternative post-harvest disease control products and practices for pome and citrus fruit.
In the microbiological world, it is the job of ‘good’ microbes to keep the ‘bad’ ones under control. These miniature battles, which rage every day on the surfaces of the fruit we eat, have great potential for post-harvest disease control.
Read article: Green can also be mean