Tiaan Rossouw of Rainbow Superfood

South African growers regroup after last year's blueberry crisis

With just a few months to go until the start of the new blueberry crop, South African farmers are regrouping and looking at new strategies. Rainbow Superfood's managing director, Tiaan Rossouw, says he's been pleasantly surprised by what he's been hearing in a sector that he says “hit rock bottom” last year”.

“Everywhere, growers are making plans to cut costs and break out of preconceived schemes. In fact, it's an interesting time where positive things are coming out of a difficult time. We are constantly learning and, without a doubt, this coming season we will be very focused on performance”.

Not many blueberry growers have left the sector, but as Tiaan says, there is a feeling of starting anew, with accompanying investments for renewal and expansion.

“I am seeing a lot of evolution towards the new genetics. The growers who invest soon in better genetics will be the ones who are sustainable”, she stresses. "Genetics are very important, much more than in the past, given the global oversupply."

RAINBOW PHOTOGRAPHY

It indicates that there is now a wide assortment of blueberries available in the country: it all comes down to yield, size and good eating quality, along with a crunchy texture, although it is difficult for a single variety to meet all these characteristics.

"What happens is that, the greater the berry, the softer it is. It is a very delicate balance that must be maintained between how far we can extend the spectrum of sizes of a variety and at what point of that spectrum a variety is optimal. Combine varieties with good shelf life and firmness with varieties of berries larger ones allows you to serve your entire market well”.

Blueberry growers are increasingly choosing to take over the marketing of their blueberries in order to have more of a say in decisions than is possible within the rigid export club structures that prevailed in the early years of the South African blueberry industry. .

"Growers tell me that the difference between the prices they get through an agent of their choice and through the clubs is astronomical."

Thailand bans entry of blueberries

For now, demand in Europe is clearly too low, he stresses, but lower shipping costs could stimulate that market.

The extreme need for labor in blueberry packing plays into why Europe remains such an important market for South African blueberries.

“You have to relieve the pressure by supplying fruit in bulk. If we look at the amount of work required to pack blueberries into 250 gram tubs, we see that it is simply not possible to pack everything into tubs. Therefore, it is necessary to find an outlet for these large volumes and, at the moment, Europe is the only market big enough to absorb them”.

Tiaan continues: “Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are very good markets, but they are small, and it doesn't help that everyone ships there. We have made shipments to Vietnam and Indonesia, markets that we could continue to develop”.

RAINBOW PHOTOGRAPHY

China has not yet opened its doors to South African blueberries, and the widespread closure of the Thai market to all blueberry imports (for no reason given) is a shame, he regrets.

“I have that Africa is showing more interest than ever, especially in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. It may be that blueberries have become more affordable and within reach,” she muses, adding that South African blueberry exporters now have to investigate every market they are not already shipping to.

Tiaan says he trusts BerriesZA's directive. “The organization is working hard to solve logistical problems and is looking for strategies to get the South African sector out of the crisis. Last season, the processing industry stopped accepting blueberries and, in extreme cases, the fruit ended up in trenches in packing houses."

This year, he points out, growers have high hopes that it will be a better season and that good relations with buyers will be key to survival.

Source
Fresh Plaza

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