Cherimoya cultivation in the Eastern Cape –

Posted: September 23, 2019 at 8:45 am

On Sunday afternoons a truck filled with cherimoya leaves Stoneacres Farm in the Eastern Cape to travel the almost 900km throughout the night and arrive at the Johannesburg Municipal Market by early Monday morning.

Hopefully by Wednesday it has been sold, notes Alan Stone, cherimoya and kiwi farmer from Stoneacres, Stutterheim, a region better known for its forestry and sheep.

It has a very short shelf life, and the market for it is very restricted. The Portuguese community in South Africa know the fruit. Demand isnt really growing. I dont send to Cape Town because there are one or two cherimoya producers in the Western Cape. I send about sixteen consignments (each about 800kg) of cherimoya to Johannesburg in a good year. More cherimoya wouldnt sell.

He sometimes sends to East London or Port Elizabeth, but 95% goes to Johannesburg in 4kg- and 2kg boxes.

Cherimoyas, known as custard apples in South Africa, seem to break every rule in the commercial fruit production handbook: their flowering period is erratic and difficult to predict it could be in November but last year it was February and March, with disastrous consequences. As a result, its difficult for Alan to predict when hell have a crop, but operating in a very sparsely populated field gives some room for manoeuvre.

The cherimoya, sold as custard apples in South Africa

Weather makes or breaks fruit set Its a problematic plant. Fruit set is another problem. The cherimoya is a very primitive plant with a most unattractive flower. On the first day that the flower opens it is female and on day two it is a male flower. There is an overlap between the female and male state, but there no known pollinator for the flower and it all depends on temperature and humidity, which are critical.

Last year their cherimoya orchards flowered during February and March, when conditions were not suitable: high temperatures were accompanied by low humidity, and there was very low fruit set. Usually if it flowers in November, after its brief springtime deciduous period, the harvest starts in June or July and can go into December, although by that time there is so much summer fruit on South African shelves that Alan winds it down.

Spanish cherimoya geneticsHe has been growing cherimoya for 15 years now, taking its quirks as they come. He was looking for something to supplement his Hayward kiwi orchard dating back to 1992, when prices were very high and everybody was planting kiwis, Alan says.

Kiwis are very labour-intensive, worldwide production has increased and kiwi imports from countries with subsidised farming have had an impact on kiwi price points locally.

The Agricultural Research Council in Nelspruit was testing Spanish Jete cherimoya cultivars. From them Alan obtained his plant material, and being in a high-altitude area that experiences frost Stutterheim is adjacent to the Amathole Mountains he established a modest two hectares, but quite enough for the Gauteng market, mostly South Africans of Portuguese descent, often via Madeira where cherimoya is said to grow wild.

Cherimoya orchard in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape (photo supplied by Stoneacres)

It currently fetches around R70 (4.3 euros) per kilogram at the market, less the agent commission of 14%.

Unfortunately, here, too, its been dry. The worst drought in living memory, Alan calls it, and he notes that the fruit are also much smaller this year. Its an area that receives above-average rainfall by South African standards, approximately 800mm, but there has been no rain for three or four months now, he says. The Stoneacres orchards are irrigated from a spring-fed dam.

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Cherimoya cultivation in the Eastern Cape -

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