Mixed Expectations as Harvest Gets Underway in South Africa

While the country’s long-standing drought finally broke, pests, blackouts and Covid-19 restrictions resulted in a harvest of mixed results thus far.
Photo: De Rustica
Jun. 15, 2021
Lisa Anderson

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South African pro­duc­ers kicked off the 2021 olive har­vest in late February and expect to fin­ish off the har­vest in August.

With about half of the har­vest already fin­ished, some pro­duc­ers antic­i­pate a smaller yield than last year.

There’s never a dull moment (dur­ing the olive har­vest­ing sea­son), but that makes for a stronger drive to attain suc­cess.- Nick Wilkinson , co-owner, Rio Largo Olive Estate

Most pro­duc­ers are har­vest­ing as we speak,” Vittoria Jooste, man­ager of the South African Olive Industry Association (SA Olive), told Olive Oil Times. We have not had weather chal­lenges this year; how­ever, some pro­duc­ers expect their 2021 har­vest to be below last year’s. This is due to the cycli­cal nature of olive grow­ing, and 2020 was a bumper har­vest.”

According to Jooste, South Africa pro­duced slightly more than 1.5 mil­lion liters of extra vir­gin olive oil in 2020. She esti­mated that this year the yield may be about 1.36 mil­lion liters.

See Also: 2021 Harvest Updates

The rule of thumb is that it takes five kilo­grams of olives to make one liter of oil, hence we can esti­mate that 7,500 tons of olives were har­vested for extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion,” she said. Additionally, some 1,500 tons of olives were processed for table olives.”

Expectations are that the 2021 har­vest should be between the 2019 and 2020 lev­els,” Jooste added. We are still wait­ing for the har­vest to come to an end, but the expec­ta­tion is that it will be slightly down on 2020.”

Despite the absence of cli­matic chal­lenges, pro­duc­ers have reported dif­fi­cul­ties with pests, ongo­ing Covid-19 work­place restric­tions and load shed­ding – a euphemism for power cuts.

Hedley Manicom, the co-owner of Owl’s Rest Olive and Lavender Farm in the Klaasvoogds Valley of the Western Cape, told Olive Oil Times they har­vested very lit­tle this year, while last year was a record.” He said this year’s har­vest was much worse” than last year’s.

The team at Owl’s Rest started har­vest­ing in April and wrapped up a few days ago.

We did a very hard prune after last sea­son, so we were not expect­ing much,” Manicom said, Then we had some pest issues believed to be cit­rus bloom moth lar­vae, which we didn’t pick up until it was too late.”

Citrus bloom moths typ­i­cally attack cit­rus fruit caus­ing necrotic lesions but are also known to attack other plants, includ­ing olive trees.

Even though 2020 marked the end of the South African drought in the west of the coun­try, Phillip King, gen­eral man­ager of Mardouw Olive Estate in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains, told Olive Oil Times they received below aver­age rain­fall the past year.”

According to South African Weather Service data, the aver­age annual rain­fall around Cape Town between 1981 and 2010 was 542 mil­lime­ters per annum, whereas 382 mil­lime­ters of rain fell last year. Despite the end of the drought, rain­fall lev­els are still not what they used to be.

King cited the low rain­fall as a con­cern, with his team start­ing to har­vest later than nor­mal this year” as a result.

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Photo: Marlene Loubser

Marlene Loubser, the gen­eral man­ager of nearby Lamara Estate in the Dwars River Valley, told Olive Oil Times, it was not a good year. Our olive yield was very low.”

The har­vest on the estate started in April and fin­ished in late May. Comparing this year’s har­vest to last year’s, Loubser said it was worse” with hardly any fruit.”

We had a good weather sea­son dur­ing the 2020 win­ter months [from June to August in the Southern Hemisphere], which impacts the fol­low­ing year’s yield, and it rained until flow­er­ing time,” she said. That had an impact on the yield this year, in a sense that yield was very low.”

However, other pro­duc­ers told Olive Oil Times they are look­ing for­ward to a more pos­i­tive out­come in 2021.

Nick Wilkinson, co-owner of Rio Largo Olive Estate on the banks of the Breede River in the Western Cape, told Olive Oil Times that they started har­vest­ing in March, and with a big crop we are still busy for another few weeks.”

Covid has slowed us down, with social dis­tanc­ing and ensur­ing all the health pro­to­cols are fol­lowed with our large har­vest­ing team,” he said.

Contending with occa­sional elec­tric­ity out­ages from the national elec­tric­ity sup­plier has forced us to acquire backup gen­er­a­tors, which has a mate­r­ial effect on costs of pro­duc­tion,” Wilkinson added.

Power out­ages, which have been endemic in South Africa since 2008 due to the inef­fi­ciency of the country’s elec­tric­ity pub­lic util­ity, Eskom, have impacted eco­nomic activ­ity across a range of sec­tors ever since.

We are accus­tomed to chal­lenges in our devel­op­ing econ­omy, and the poor state of gov­er­nance forces one to be inven­tive and cre­ative to keep on top of chal­lenges,” Wilkinson said. There’s never a dull moment, but that makes for a stronger drive to attain suc­cess.”

Deeper inland in South Africa’s semi-arid Klein Karoo, De Rustica Olive Estate started har­vest­ing in late-March and is expected to con­tinue until mid-July.

Precilla Steenkamp, the estate’s mar­ket­ing man­ager, told Olive Oil Times there have not been any unusual chal­lenges” besides hav­ing to sus­pend har­vest­ing a few times as a result of the weather or rain.”

However, she added that the rain is always wel­come in Klein Karoo.

The har­vest this year is good by nor­mal stan­dards and excep­tional in com­par­i­son with the drought– and weather – impacted poor har­vests of the last two years,” she said. It is dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter than the past two years.”


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