Fruits

Promising new mango, kiwi and passion fruit cultivars

Looking for a different crop to grow in the Western Cape? At the Subtropical and Minor Crop Workshop held last year, Glenneis Kriel spoke to a number of experts about the fruits highlighted at the event.

Tamarac is a new late variety of mango thought to have developed out of a natural crossing of the Heidi and Sensation cultivars.
Photo: Supplied

Mangoes offer a potential turnover of R1 million/ha, but whether this is achieved depends on your production per hectare, when your crop hits the market, and supply and demand, says Bernie van den Heever, co-owner of Cape Mango in the Olifants River region in the Western Cape.

South African mango production has seen little growth over the past 10 years, as farmers prefer to plant citrus fruit, which grow faster and reach break-even point sooner.

“Mango trees take up to eight years to reach maturity in traditional production regions such as Hoedspruit, but they can take up to 10 years in Olifants River and probably 12 years in the Southern Cape, due to the cooler climates in these regions,” he explains.

Depending on where and how well the crop is grown, the break-even point is usually at six to seven years. According to Van den Heever, farmers wishing to grow mangoes should target the late market, from April to May. Approximately 21 000t of fresh mangoes are sold on the local market each year, 27 000t are used to produce atchar, 8 300t are juiced, and 16 000t are dried.

“If you’re going to farm mangoes, it makes sense to invest in technology to add value to fruit that doesn’t make the grade for the fresh market,” he advises.

Export opportunities also exist in the EU, Canada and Dubai between March and April, but only 3 400t of mangoes are exported each year due to cold chain- and phytosanitary-related challenges.

Mango production
Mangoes thrive in temperatures between 10°C and 35°C, and are sensitive to frost and wind.

“It’s always safer to plant a small trial to see if it will work under your production conditions.

“The results will show after five years,” says Van den Heever.

Establishment costs depend on the production region and soil preparation, but range from R30 000/ha to R100 000/ ha for soil preparation, R50 000/ha to R150 000/ ha for irrigation infrastructure, and around R65 000/ha for plant material.

“Trees are generally spaced 2m apart, and cost R40 to R60 each, depending on the variety.”

Erecting nets to protect the crop against wind and sun damage will add another R200 000/ha.

Van den Heever estimates that the total cost from establishment until the trees bear their first commercial yields could amount to over R500 000/ha.

The most common mango varieties planted are Tommy Atkins, Kent, Joa, Chené, Shelley, Heidi, Sensation and Keitt. Van den Heever has also acquired plant breeder’s rights for Tamarac, a variety that appears to have developed out of a natural crossing of Heidi and Sensation.

He believes that Tamarac holds the key to mango production in the Western Cape, as it is a late cultivar and better adapted to the production conditions of the province.

Average production for the industry as a whole is 20t/ha, with some farmers having achieved between 30t/ha and 35t/ ha. Van den Heever has attained yields of between 40t/ha and 60t/ha with Tamarac.

Yellow and red kiwis
South Africa started producing kiwi fruit in the 1980s, almost at the same time as New Zealand. Today, New Zealand company Zespri supplies the market year-round and accounts for over 30% of global sales, while South African production almost came to a standstill until four or five years ago.

Peter Turner, managing director of South Africa Kiwi Pollen, says that the fruit produced low yields in this country and gained a reputation for being a ‘difficult’ crop. But very little was known about kiwi production at the time, with a mismatch of pollinators being one of the main reasons for low yields.

“Farmers couldn’t seem to grasp that kiwis didn’t produce any nectar and depended on wind, not bees, for pollination. In effect, orchards required a much wider range of pollination activities than was understood at the time,” he says.

Furthermore, the initial imported varieties, which were all green, were unsuited to low-chill areas, limiting their production to a few isolated spots.

South Africa’s production potential for the fruit is far better today, thanks to a greater understanding of the crop and the introduction of new (particularly yellow) varieties, which are greatly expanding the area suited to production due to their lower chill requirements.

“In South Africa, there’s a good opportunity to replace imported kiwis with better-quality, locally produced kiwis,” says Turner.

Unfortunately, South African consumers prefer green varieties, while the rest of the world favorites yellow and red kiwis.

“South African consumers need to be exposed to the yellow and red varieties in order to create a greater local demand for them, as returns for them are almost double that of the green [kiwis].”

South Africa has the advantage of being the earliest producer in the Southern Hemisphere, and is well positioned to supply the EU, the US, Africa, Oceania and the Middle East.

New Zealand and Chile are the second- and third-biggest kiwi exporters respectively after Italy. However, Chile’s area under production has declined since 2015 from 11 000ha to 9 000ha due to its struggle to compete with Italy and New Zealand.

“A major problem for Chile is that it doesn’t have strong global brands associated with quality,” says Turner.

New Zealand lost 3 800ha between 2010 and 2015 because of Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidia, a bacterial canker that destroys the trees. The disease is not present in South Africa, which affords local farmers the opportunity to export kiwi pollen.

Turner cautions that kiwi production requires specific climatic conditions: the area must be frost-free, winter chilling must be at a sufficient level, and there must be enough water. Kiwi fruit requires 30% more water than apples, and double that of citrus.

Establishment costs are about R700 000/ha, depending on the terrain, with production costs averaging around R145 000/ha once the trees are in full bearing. The return on investment is 18% to 20%, with farmers breaking even when the trees are four to five years old. South African production averages 35t/ha.

Turner warns, however, that kiwi fruit is an unforgiving and labor-intensive crop.

“Kiwis are not for you if you’re used to taking holidays in October. Moreover, production in South Africa still needs a lot of fine-tuning.”

Passion Fruit
With international prices fluctuating between €4,5/kg (around R80/kg) and €5,5/kg (R100/kg), there seems to be a lucrative market for passion fruit, better known as granadillas, in South Africa.

But according to Johan Husselman, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Tropical and Subtropical Crops Division, South Africa’s ability to cash in on this market will depend greatly on producers’ ability to work together and the establishment of a growers’ association.

“The South African industry is small, with the area under production estimated [at] around 200 ha. Most passion fruit farmers see one another as competition, but the real threats are Vietnam and Columbia,” he says.

One of the main advantages of better collaboration would be the consolidation of exports, which would facilitate a switch from airfreight to sea freight. “At the moment, most of South Africa’s granadillas are exported via airfreight, which greatly increases transport costs, whereas Colombia’s fruit is shipped.”

This might also incentivise the expansion of production, which would in turn help to justify and accelerate the registration of chemical-control products.

Passion fruit requires a day length of at least 11 hours, and a temperature of 21°C to 25°C or higher to flower.

As the flowers are large, bees are not always the best pollinators. Pollination is also problematic when the temperature drops below 20°C, while vegetative growth at the expense of fruit formation becomes an issue when the temperature rises above 32°C.

Husselman estimates establishment costs at about R200 000/ha. The plants start to produce fruit from nine months after planting, and can be harvested continually throughout most of the year, with two clearly defined peaks.

The plants reach full production capacity after a year.

“They might take longer in the Western Cape due to the cooler climate, but the province benefits from lower disease pressure in the absence of summer rain and a number of leaf diseases,” he says.

With leaf diseases being a serious problem, Husselman advises farmers to ensure that they buy disease-free material from reputable nurseries.

Purple Ester is the most planted commercial variety of passion fruit in South Africa, but it does not produce large fruit.

“Generally, Ester growers struggle to produce fruit that weighs more than 80g, as is demanded in the EU,” he explains.

A couple of farmers are experimenting with other varieties, and the ARC is due to release five new cultivars in 2022. Four of these produce fruit that is larger than Ester, while the fifth produces fruit of the same size as Ester, but with a higher sugar content and lower acidity.

No yellow varieties are grown commercially in South Africa, as they have a higher acidity and are not as sweet as their purple counterparts. In addition, yellow varieties are used primarily in the processing sector.

Husselman estimates that an area of ​​about 20ha should be commercially viable, with production averaging 20t/ha.

He advises prospective farmers to invest in pulp machines to add value to fruit that fail to make the grade for the fresh market.

Email Bernie van den Heever at [email protected]Peter Turner at [email protected]or Johan Husselman at [email protected].

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