A Successful Harvest in South Africa Amid Rolling Blackouts

Power cuts reached a few bleak milestones this year, but the country's producers were undeterred.

(Photo: De Rustica)
By Lisa Anderson
Sep. 26, 2023 14:30 UTC
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(Photo: De Rustica)

During the recent har­vest, power cuts and inclement weather did not pre­vent South African farm­ers from pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil of excep­tional qual­ity.

Philip King, the vice-chair of the South African Olive Industry Association (SA Olive), told Olive Oil Times that the coun­try pro­duced around 1.2 mil­lion liters of olive oil this year.

Everyone had to work around this incon­ve­nience (load shed­ding) by either get­ting backup elec­tric­ity in the form of gen­er­a­tors, solar solu­tions or by chang­ing work­ing shifts. The work had to go on.- Philip King, vice-chair, South African Olive Industry

The qual­ity of the 2023 South African extra vir­gin olive oils made up for the lower crop. The 2022 har­vest yielded an esti­mate of just under 1.7 mil­lion liters,” King said. Numerous pro­duc­ers received the top awards at the most pres­ti­gious olive oil com­pe­ti­tions world­wide.”

This is awe­some and once again proves that South Africa can pro­duce world-class extra vir­gin olive oils,” he added.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

King expected this year’s yield to be down from 2022, which he said was an excep­tional year for the coun­try’s pro­duc­ers.

When pro­duc­ers started har­vest­ing ear­lier this year, it was against unprece­dented load shed­ding (rota­tional power cuts to pre­vent a national power grid col­lapse).

By mid-February, the power out­ages for 2023 had already exceeded the com­bined totals of 2019 and 2020, accord­ing to data released by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).

At the time, SARB and other major South African com­pa­nies started prepar­ing for a grid col­lapse. This poten­tial cat­a­strophic event sparked national con­cern; in the event of a nation­wide power shut­down, it would take up to two weeks to restart the grid due to its unique topol­ogy, which ana­lysts believed could lead to wide­spread unrest.

As the har­vest was in full swing in April, SARB fig­ures indi­cated that the coun­try had endured 2,434 hours of load shed­ding for 2023 by the mid­dle of that month.

King described the load shed­ding dur­ing the har­vest as a mas­sive chal­lenge. But as the Afrikaans say­ing goes, n boer maak n plan,” he said.

Everyone had to work around this incon­ve­nience by either get­ting backup elec­tric­ity in the form of gen­er­a­tors, solar solu­tions or by chang­ing work­ing shifts,” he said. The work had to go on.”

Besides power cuts, the Western Cape’s farm­ers – where most of the coun­try’s olive farms are located – expe­ri­enced heavy rains and severe flood­ing, result­ing in wide­spread infra­struc­ture dam­age.

King said the pos­i­tives of the wet win­ter far out­weighed the neg­a­tives for olive farm­ers, though.

The pos­i­tives were that irri­ga­tion was hardly nec­es­sary dur­ing har­vest­ing time, as the whole soil pro­file has been nour­ished instead of just the areas around the trees,” he said.

The down­side was that rainy days caused har­vest­ing slow­downs, adding to hours lost to load-shed­ding sched­ules, but pro­duc­ers took this in stride.

Hedley Manicom, the co-owner of Owl’s Rest Olive and Lavender Farm, located between Robertson and Ashton in the Western Cape, said the rain neg­a­tively affected their ton­nage and oil yield.

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He described the har­vest as poor, result­ing in a low ton­nage of olives, around 70 per­cent, down from the pre­vi­ous year’s yield.

The early win­ter resulted in many olives not ripen­ing,” he said. We had high losses due to drop­ping and low yields per ton due to high water con­tent from the wet soil con­di­tions.”

Manicom said the Owls’ Rest team had to work around load-shed­ding hours. But the poor har­vest made this eas­ier,” he said.

Other fac­tors Owl’s Rest had to con­tend with were high pick­ing costs due to increased min­i­mum wage and the low yield, which reduced the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the far­m’s pick­ers.

Another pro­ducer from Robertson, Brenda Wilkinson, the co-owner of Rio Largo Olive Estate, said their recent har­vest involved metic­u­lous daily plan­ning, con­sid­er­ing load-shed­ding sched­ules, staff require­ments, the har­vest and the weather.

Despite all this, she described this year as much bet­ter than last, with larger vol­umes and excep­tional qual­ity.

Wilkinson told Olive Oil Times that they antic­i­pated a large crop and power out­ages and started har­vest­ing ear­lier.

As a result, they yielded a good bal­ance of intense, pun­gent oils, fol­lowed by medium-inten­sity oils later in the sea­son. This brought in numer­ous awards for them, she said.

Wilkinson added that they have installed a solar energy sys­tem at Rio Largo to sup­port the state util­ity power.

With good plan­ning, we were able to oper­ate accord­ing to plan with­out many prob­lems,” she said, other than an esca­la­tion in pro­cess­ing costs.”

Wilkinson added that Rio Largo did not expe­ri­ence too many wet days in the early sea­son.

So our har­vest was unin­ter­rupted by rain, other than the last four weeks of har­vest when we had to post­pone pick­ing for a good 10 days to allow the groves to dry out and reduce mois­ture con­tent in the fruit,” she said.

As I am sure is the case with the rest of the world, esca­lat­ing costs of labor, fuel, fer­til­iz­ers and her­bi­cides have neg­a­tively affected our pro­duc­tion costs, and it is dif­fi­cult to recover these increases in trade prices of olive oil with­out reduc­ing vol­umes sold,” Wilkinson added.

Further east, Kallie Frey, the farm man­ager for De Rustica Estate, said the har­vest went well, adding that their oil yield was four times larger than last year’s.

I installed a gen­er­a­tor set before the har­vest started, know­ing that load shed­ding would make it impos­si­ble to make the high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil we usu­ally make,” he said. It worked well, and thank good­ness we did.”

We have a great team. It makes chal­lenges eas­ier,” Frey added. The wet win­ter did cause some delays and had a huge effect on oil yields, but the qual­ity was still very good. We have never com­plained about rain in the Little Karoo.”



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