South African blueberry industry recovers after port strikes

The true picture of the impact of the port strikes on the South African blueberry business will only be known at the end of the year.

It will be some time before South African blueberry exporters can calculate the true cost of this year's port strike in the country.

Fruit that had been delayed in Cape Town due to the strike and the subsequent distribution of shipping schedules is still being managed through the UK and European markets.

“We are managing this through customer relationships to place and sell the fruit as quickly as possible,” said Brent Welsh, CEO of BerriesZA.

“While this is a difficult season for us, it is entirely due to the problems created by the strike,” he continued. "We are sure that the blueberry business is strong and will continue on its path of growth, as long as the port authority does not let us down."

The September strike could not have come at a worse time for the South African blueberry export business.

The industry had been experiencing a late season with the peak supply season moving a month later, meaning the bulk sales months would be November and December, in direct competition with fruit from other supplier nations.

During the strike, fruit had to be stored in South Africa and vital weeks of sales were lost.

Over the course of the past few months, the situation at the port has slowly returned to normal and shipping schedules have returned to being in line with the pre-strike period.

Early stone fruit exporters have also reported that shipping times have been normalised, which is also vital for grape growers now shipping their fruit to pre-Christmas markets.

BerriesZA president Justin Mudge had previously warned of the strikes and the serious impact of ongoing operational problems at the country's ports due to aging and decommissioned infrastructure, inefficient systems and staff shortages.

“Delayed shipments, due to poor port performance, have affected the quality of berries reaching international markets, causing product rejection rates from receiving customers to skyrocket to as much as a quarter of a billion rand. unprecedented last year."

He said the problem was compounded by a rise in input costs faced by farmers, including a rise in fertilizer and fuel prices, as well as rising freight rates.

"As a result, more than a third of local berry growers are currently unprofitable," Mudge noted.

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