After Slow Start, South African Producers Celebrate Record Harvest

While many growers reported more rainfall and record harvests, others fared less well and worry about the future.

De Rustica
Sep. 14, 2021
By Lisa Anderson
De Rustica

Recent News

When South African pro­duc­ers started har­vest­ing in late February, the yield was not expected to sur­pass last year’s total.

However, the 2021 har­vest is now on par with 2020, in which 1.5 mil­lion liters of extra vir­gin olive oil were pro­duced, and some are call­ing it a record har­vest.

Last year, our har­vest was quite poor due to sev­eral dif­fi­cult envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors. In con­trast, we are blown away by the results this year.- Precilla Steenkamp, mar­ket­ing man­ager, De Rustica Olive Oil Estate

Vittoria Jooste, man­ager of the South African Olive Industry Association (SA Olive), orig­i­nally esti­mated the yield would reach 1.36 mil­lion liters, but has since revised her esti­mate.

“[The har­vest is] broadly in line with last year,” she told Olive Oil Times. Our cur­rent esti­mate for the 2021 har­vest is 1.6 mil­lion liters of olive oil.”

See Also: Bountiful Harvest Yields Wins for South African Producers at World Competition

Jooste added that 113 extra vir­gin olive oils have been entered into the SA Olive Awards, which is a good indi­ca­tion of the qual­ity of the 2021 South African extra vir­gin olive oils.”

Nick Wilkinson, who co-owns the Rio Largo Olive Estate with his wife, Brenda, in the Western Cape province’s Scherpenheuwel Valley, said they had an excel­lent har­vest in both quan­tity and qual­ity.”

The crop is three times higher than last year’s crop and our best ever, some 30 per­cent higher than the long-term aver­age before the drought,” he said. We have finally recov­ered from the last four years of poor rain­fall with a record crop, despite the chal­lenges of load shed­ding [a South African term for power cuts] and Covid-19 dis­tanc­ing require­ments.”

We suf­fered elec­tric­ity out­ages due to the national sup­plier hav­ing reg­u­lar shut­downs, which meant pro­duc­tion had to stop dur­ing these times, which made for a night­mare in plan­ning to ensure all olives har­vested were processed timeously [in a timely man­ner],” Wilkinson added.

Earlier this year, Wilkinson told Olive Oil Times the power cuts had forced them to invest in backup gen­er­a­tors, which had a mate­r­ial effect on costs of pro­duc­tion.”

Wilkinson said the har­vest took longer than usual as they were lim­ited in terms of labor num­bers to keep proper sep­a­ra­tion and hygiene pro­to­cols in place, which slowed down their rate of pick­ing each day.

He also noted the national increase of farm­work­ers’ wages on March 1 as a con­cern.

Government saw fit to increase our wage rates by over 16 per­cent, while infla­tion is around four per­cent, cou­pled with a 15 per­cent increase in elec­tric­ity rates – add power out­ages to this,” Wilkinson said. The increased quan­tity does not off­set the increased cost of pro­duc­tion, so prof­itabil­ity is again chal­lenged when com­pared to the major European pro­duc­ers, who con­tinue to enjoy finan­cial sup­port and sub­si­dies.”

Our qual­ity pro­file will again hope­fully deter­mine that we sell well, and at least sell at bet­ter-than-aver­age prices,” he added.

Philip King, man­ager of nearby Mardouw Olive Estate, between Swellendam and Ashton, told Olive Oil Times that his team is cel­e­brat­ing a suc­cess­ful har­vest.

We fol­lowed last year’s record har­vest up with an above-aver­age har­vest, so we are extremely happy,” King said.

Even though the drought in the west of the coun­try ended last year, King was still con­cerned about low rain­fall ear­lier this year. As a result, the team at Mardouw started har­vest­ing slightly later than usual.

Rainfall was an issue lead­ing up to the har­vest, but it came at the right time, and we man­aged to pull it through,” he said.

Deeper inland, De Rustica Olive Oil Estate, sit­u­ated in the semi-arid Klein Karoo, had its best har­vest yet,” mar­ket­ing man­ager Precilla Steenkamp told Olive Oil Times.

With Covid-19 restric­tions and the drought in the Klein Karoo, we pro­duced over 200,000 liters of top-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” she said. Last year, our har­vest was quite poor due to sev­eral dif­fi­cult envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors. In con­trast, we are blown away by the results this year.”

See Also: The Best Olive Oils from South Africa

The Klein Karoo is cur­rently expe­ri­enc­ing a long drought and obvi­ously this has an impact on our water infra­struc­ture,” Steenkamp added. Despite this, we man­aged to ensure that all our groves received opti­mal water­ing.”

She said a new chal­lenge they faced was run­ning out of tank space to store their recently pro­duced oils, but added this is a chal­lenge we hope to expe­ri­ence every year as we go from strength to strength.”

Steenkamp said although they had to adhere to Covid-19 safety reg­u­la­tions to safe­guard their staff, the har­vest at De Rustica went ahead with­out too much dis­rup­tion.”

It took a lit­tle longer than it would nor­mally have taken, but we are extremely pleased with the results,” she said.

Even though the safety reg­u­la­tions were not that dis­rup­tive, Steenkamp said the coun­try’s lock­down restric­tions def­i­nitely had an impact on the sales and the logis­tics of trans­porta­tion of orders within our busi­ness.”

Unlike other olive farms, Goedgedacht, a farm-based com­mu­nity sup­port orga­ni­za­tion located near Riebeek-Kasteel in the Swartland region north of Cape Town, reported a sub­stan­dard out­come.

“​Sadly our har­vest this year was very poor,” Rob Templeton, the man­ag­ing direc­tor of Goedgedacht, told Olive Oil Times. It was pri­mar­ily due to the drought con­di­tions that have pre­vailed for the last four sea­sons, mak­ing olive farm­ing extremely dif­fi­cult.”

We did not have enough water in our dams to sup­port the trees dur­ing pit hard­en­ing and these stress­ful con­di­tions led us to lose a sig­nif­i­cant amount of fruit,” he added. Luckily, with good win­ter rains this year, we have suf­fi­cient water to help sup­port a bet­ter har­vest for the 2022 har­vest sea­son.”

We are in the process of con­vert­ing our entire olive farm­ing oper­a­tions to organic, and the team has a renewed focus on achiev­ing this objec­tive,” he added.

Templeton said the Goedgedacht team was not affected by Covid-19 restric­tions due to their reduced har­vest vol­ume.

But Covid-19 caused chaos for our con­fer­ence cen­ter on the farm and we lost many book­ings, includ­ing 40 schools from the United Kingdom that booked to visit us late last year,” he said.

Added to the poor har­vest out­come, Templeton expressed con­cern about the demand for Goedgedacht’s prod­uct.

This year, restau­rants have resumed oper­a­tions in South Africa, which in turn has slowed sales in retail,” he said. Consumers are now watch­ing their spend­ing very care­fully, so spe­cialty food items have seen a notice­able drop in sales.”


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