This increase in exports, which has meant growth of more than 1000% in the last decade and 50% in the last two years, is due to the fact that more companies and producers are joining the crop. With more hectares planted, with more technology and better knowledge, which is reflected in this increase in the industry and in the use of higher employment rates, which directly contributes to the development of the nation. By 2023, it is projected to have 4700 hectares planted.
The South African blueberry industry started in the Lydenburg district of Mpumalanga during the 1970s, and in 1987 blueberry cultivation reached the Western Cape. The first recorded batch of blueberries exported from South Africa was in 1992, which was valued at 9780 rand (approx. USD 530) and shipped to Zambia. In 2001 this value reached 5 million rand (USD 270 thousand approx.) And in 2018 blueberry exports exceeded the mark of 1500 billion rand for the first time, soaring to date over XNUMX billion.
In terms of economic growth, the blueberry industry has significantly outperformed other fruit industries, increasing its value exponentially for a decade, doubling its growth as an industry in recent years and doubling its economic income in the last year of production and exports. Within the family of berries cultivated in South Africa, blueberry production is the largest, occupying about 74% of the entire planted area. The Western Cape has the highest proportion of blueberry hectares at 60%, followed by Limpopo (15%), Northwest (10%) and Gauteng (8%). According to SABPA executive Elzette Schutte, the projections for the South African industry by 2023 are to reach a production of 50.000 tons, which would mean reaching 35.000 tons in exports, placing the South African industry in the first five blueberry exporting countries in the world.
Most blueberry farms are planted under shade mesh structures (43%) or outdoors (40%), compared to 17% under plastic cover, however these percentages are rapidly changing with new investments and new project implementations, since there is a strong drive towards planting under plastic mesh and covers to guarantee high quality fresh products, with cutting-edge technologies to ensure efficient water management, pest and disease control, and to protect farms from sunburn, wind, hail and bird damage.
In this perspective of implementation and use of new technologies, many producers are converting their management and adopting cultivation techniques in bags or containers with substrate, achieving better control and higher plant density, in addition to acquiring newer varieties, achieving yields of above 10 tons per hectare, which is the current average production in the area.