The weather in South Africa has been great for the cultivation of pomegranates this year, according to Brent Geddes of Pomona.
“Not too much rain and constant temperatures, ideal for photosynthesis to occur. This meant the fruit ripened very quickly and we harvested about 2 weeks earlier than anticipated. This also meant that the fruit was slightly smaller than normal,” says Brent.
Pomona currently has 106 hectares in production ranging from 4 to 6 years old, producing a harvest of 1200 tons, but due to certain pest issues, had to send quite a large portion of this to the juicers. The company is working on a project to increase the production by another 200 hectares within the next 12 months and are looking at other potential projects to increase that even further. According to Brent, the pomegranate industry in South Africa is now moving from a very fledgling industry to one that is more mature and working well.
“For this reason there are now many people/companies etc. that are interested in planting and often wanting to partner with a company that has the experience in growing the fruit successfully. South Africa has less than 1000 hectares planted in the whole country, but I see that tripling in the next 3 to 5 years.”
The company mainly exports to Europe and the UK, but has seen rapidly increasing demand from the Middle East and Asia.
According to Brent, the introduction of new varieties and improved storage has lead to a longer and larger season, but has also lead to increased competition from countries like India due to a seasonal overlap.
Farm managers Jeandre Hugo and Jorrie Mulder
“However, our fruit is often fresh and competing with the stored products from India and so our fruit tends to be sold quicker and at better prices,” he explains. “The main competition for us is actually Chile and Peru, who harvest about 2 to 4 weeks after our season starts. Both these countries’ exports have increased significantly in the past 3 years and are set to continue to do so. That being said, the market is also growing and can handle the supply, with prices for the good quality fruit staying quite consistent. Chile has also now obtained market access to the US and we hope that they will redirect the majority of their produce there, which will reduce volumes in our target markets.”
Brent explains that they are also moving into different sectors in the market. “We have found that our customers are asking for us to supply them with other products and so we are looking at this very seriously. This year we are starting to move into other products by sending our first shipment of Valencia’s to Hong Kong.”
He believes South Africa is an ideal place to grow pomegranates, due to the fertile soil and easy access to water for the crops, as well as economic benefits for export.
“The infrastructure and knowledge of farming is just about the best in the world and there is a vast pool of labour to tap into. The weak Rand is also helping the revenue line for fruit exporters. The biggest challenge in South Africa is access to finance to grow your business in the early part of your lifecycle. As farming has so many variables and such a long term investment, there are very few financial institutions willing to take on the credit,” he concludes.