As Harvest Gets Underway, South African Producers Face Rolling Blackouts

Olive oil production is expected to decrease in South Africa after consecutive near-record yields. Load shedding and political instability are among the main challenges.

(Photo: Het Vlock Casteel)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Apr. 18, 2023 14:16 UTC
(Photo: Het Vlock Casteel)

Most South African olive oil pro­duc­ers started har­vest­ing in April amid the chal­lenges cre­ated by the fre­quent elec­tric black­outs, known as load shed­ding.

These power out­ages also plagued pro­duc­ers in the pre­vi­ous sea­son but did not pre­vent many from enjoy­ing a bumper har­vest.

With no solu­tion on the hori­zon, we are brac­ing our­selves for a har­vest sea­son marred by per­va­sive power cuts and for the addi­tional pro­duc­tion costs that olive proces­sors will have to incur.- Vittoria Jooste, CEO, SA Olive

Still, this year’s load shed­ding has affected irri­ga­tion and delayed some pro­duc­ers as they milled, which can affect olive oil qual­ity. Other agri­cul­tural sec­tors, such as wine, have also been affected by power fail­ures.

During the cur­rent year, power out­ages of vary­ing sever­ity have been reported daily by Eskom, the state-run elec­tric­ity com­pany.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

Even in Pretoria, the coun­try’s admin­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal, power out­ages in sev­eral areas hin­der daily oper­a­tions of infra­struc­ture, pub­lic insti­tu­tions and pri­vate activ­i­ties. In February, the gov­ern­ment declared a dis­as­ter to address the cri­sis, which weighs heav­ily on agri­cul­ture and food pro­duc­ers.

“[For olive grow­ers], the main chal­lenge so far has been the unavail­abil­ity of elec­tric­ity to power irri­ga­tion pumps. This is due to the load shed­ding cri­sis in South Africa,” Vittoria Jooste, the chief exec­u­tive of the South African Olive Industry Association (SA Olive), told Olive Oil Times.

Uncertainties about future fuel spec­u­la­tions and polit­i­cal con­flict worry the agri­cul­tural sec­tors.

With no solu­tion on the hori­zon, we are brac­ing our­selves for a har­vest sea­son marred by per­va­sive power cuts and for the addi­tional pro­duc­tion costs that olive proces­sors will have to incur,” Jooste said.

These include costs for diesel to fuel gen­er­a­tors, over­time wages when work­ers must stay late to fin­ish milling and the poten­tial for har­vest olives to spoil.

South Africa’s pre­car­i­ous power con­di­tions are closely mon­i­tored even by those pro­duc­ers not yet directly affected by the black­outs.

The extrac­tion of olive oil will be a prob­lem,” Ansie Nigrini, the co-owner of Het Vlock Casteel, a pro­ducer in the Western Cape area, told Olive Oil Times.


(Photo: Het Vlock Casteel)

To ensure extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity, olives need to be pressed within 24 hours after pick­ing,” she added. Luckily, we have a gen­er­a­tor on-site, but this will increase the oper­a­tional costs.”

The cur­rent har­vest is pro­ceed­ing unevenly. Ryan Westcott, the mar­ket­ing man­ager of De Rustica Olive Estate in the Southern Cape, told Olive Oil Times that he expects a good har­vest and oil yield, which should exceed 200,000 liters.

However, not all pro­duc­ers share the same opti­mism as the har­vest pro­ceeds. There seems to be a lower yield this year,” Nigrini said. During the grow­ing sea­son, we had typ­i­cal weather, but a lot of rain and thun­der­storms in March, which are abnor­mal in the period, played a role on the field.”

According to SA Olive, the cur­rent sea­son’s olive har­vest is expected to be lower after the bumper har­vest reported in the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

Volumes are expected to be down com­pared to the last sea­son in most areas, but over­all in line with the past five-year aver­age,” Jooste said.


SA Olive esti­mated that South Africa pro­duced 1.6 to 1.7 mil­lion liters of olive oil in the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons. The final fig­ures of the cur­rent crop year will be released in July and August, at the end of the har­vest.

We started with the har­vest of the table olives at the begin­ning of April,” Nigrini said. She added that the olive har­vest to pro­duce oil is start­ing now.

It is a bit dif­fi­cult to say when the har­vest will end, but we think it will end at the end of May to mid-June, much sooner than last year,” Nigrini explained.

In the coun­try, most of the olive har­vest is done man­u­ally. With few excep­tions,” Jooste said. Due to the extent of the olive grow­ing area in South Africa and the dis­tances between farms, each farm is, in essence, a small com­mu­nity com­pris­ing farm own­ers, employ­ees, sea­sonal work­ers and the fam­i­lies they sup­port.”

Looking to the future, local pro­duc­ers want to increase the demand for olive oil domes­ti­cally.

The South African olive indus­try is young,” Westcott said. Most con­sumers have not yet had expo­sure enough [to olive oil] to under­stand the intri­ca­cies, [olive] vari­eties or health ben­e­fits.”

While some con­sumers are well informed and seek out qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils, the vast major­ity are price-ori­ented,” he added. The con­sumer does appear to be becom­ing increas­ingly aware of the ben­e­fits.”

According to Nigrini, once con­sumers learn about extra vir­gin olive oil, they seek it out more often. Nowadays, peo­ple are more health con­scious, and they value prod­ucts of a higher qual­ity, hence the rea­son for con­sum­ing extra vir­gin olive oils,” she said.

We, as olive pro­duc­ers, try to edu­cate our cus­tomers about extra vir­gin olive oil, on what to look for to make a more informed deci­sion when buy­ing olive oil,” Nigrini added. In South Africa, the qual­ity of extra vir­gin olive oil is not reg­u­lated by leg­is­la­tion.”

Due to the lack of reg­u­la­tion, Nigrini noted the sig­nif­i­cance of cer­ti­fi­ca­tions such as the Commitment to Compliance (CTC) released by the olive asso­ci­a­tion, which she said is cru­cial in qual­ity con­trol.

A third-party lab cer­ti­fies whether the olive oil is com­pli­ant with the lim­its of free acid­ity and per­ox­ide val­ues. This CTC seal does pro­vide a surety to con­sumers,” Nigrini said.

SA Olive works to edu­cate con­sumers and pro­mote the ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil,” Josste said. Harvest sea­son is when cer­tain mes­sages are rein­forced, for instance, the impor­tance of pro­cess­ing olives soon after pick­ing to ensure fresh­ness of the extra vir­gin olive oil.”

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