Did you know that strawberries were introduced to South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck, the first Governor of the Dutch settlement established in Cape Town? The first reference on strawberries was recorded in Van Riebeeck’s diary on 11 October 1656 when he documented that ‘’…currants and strawberries are also thriving…’’
As the industry became more commercialised, strawberry growers realised that forming an industry body would be beneficial as issues can be identified, prioritized and address by the association.
The South African Strawberry Growers Association was the result of this decision, and was established in 1972.
Production has increased significantly in South Africa over the past years due to the ever-increasing demand. It is, however, an expensive and labour-intensive production with about 12 producers providing roughly 90% of the local production.
Strawberries grow best in areas with cold winters and mild summers and in well-drained soils with high organic matter content. Most of South Africa’s strawberries are produced in Brits, George, Paarl and Stellenbosch.
About half the strawberries are produced outside, while the other half is produced under protection. Protecting the crops against the environmental elements is costly, but it lengthens the production season and provides for better quality crops. Planting under protection, however, drastically increases the production costs.
Depending on the variety of the strawberry and the production region, strawberries are planted from March to April, and harvested from June to December.
Strawberries planted in South Africa, mostly come from plant materials that are under breeder’s rights. This means that farmers either have to pay royalties or belong to a growers’ club to gain access to these plant materials.
The varieties available in South Africa are either day-neutral or short-day growers.
Day-neutral strawberries continue to fruit as long as the weather holds. This means that, unlike the familiar June-bearing cultivars that only fruit for a short time, day-neutral strawberries fruit into the summer and autumn. They also bear firmer and larger fruits than June-bearing strawberries.
Short-day growers require a certain amount of daylight in order to flower. They generally flower during spring or autumn.