By Justin Chadwick
The Citrus Growers Association updates on recent activity including regional visits in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo Province.
Recently Mitchell Brooke and I were in the Senwes (Groblersdal and Marble Hall) citrus growing region – these are my reflections:
Precision farming is becoming the norm on some farms – the ability to use technology to maximise efficiency on farms is being adopted by progressive growers and the results are starting to show. Technology innovations allow growers to mine an immense amount of data, giving them exception reports and information for informed decision making.
Successful agriculture leads to beatification of a region – the pride that growers take in their farms is evident and lifts the spirits of all those involved in their ventures.
As in the Eastern Cape, there has been considerable capital investment in orchards, netting, packhouses and infrastructure. The packhouses boast cutting edge technology in sorting machinery – it is amazing to see fruit of all sizes and colour entering the packhouse and ending up in uniform packing stations for specific markets.
The latest South African unemployment statistics make for grim reading – it is heartening to see employment opportunities in rural areas, in a small way reducing the flow of people to urban areas. The Senwes region has multiple packhouses, and highly labour-intensive agricultural products are produced in the region.
Many of the farms in Senwes are multigenerational family farms – and the family culture and hospitality are very evident. Although the weather was bitingly cold – the hospitality kept one warm.
After last weeks’ look at the 4% full Kouga dam, it was a relief to see the Loskop dam at over 95% full. Canals from the dam channel water to the orchards.
Mitchell observes that this region is best placed to take advantage of rail opportunities to the port of Durban. Exporters in the region have taken advantage of this and the majority of fruit railed to Durban come from this region. The pioneers in stuffing containers at cold stores in the growing region, and then railing directly into the stack in Durban come from this region. With the forecast growth there will be added incentives to use rail in the future.
In previous weeks I visited citrus growing regions in the Eastern Cape – these are my reflections of this region:
The enormous employment opportunities created by the citrus industry in the province. Whether this be on the farms, in packhouses, service providers and in all the peripheral businesses in the region. Bustling towns like Kirkwood, Patensie, Hankey, Fort Beaufort and others depend their existence on the surrounding citrus industry.
The capital investment in orchards, netting, packhouses and infrastructure. Industry growth requires additional packing facilities and some architecturally impressive packhouses have been erected.
The resilience of growers depending on the Gamtoos river system and the Kouga dam. The sight of a dam 96% empty is quite distressing, yet growers have risen to the challenge and ensured that they set a reasonable 2021 crop. Many boreholes have been sunk, at great expense. One would expect an air of despondency – but that is not the case. Growers are adapting to the reality and adopting what they can to see themselves through to the next rains. They will come.
The impact of industry growth on road infrastructure. Roads from PE to the different packhouses were not built to carry the load as more and more trucks travel between the port and the packhouses. Many of the roads are narrow and these big trucks, coupled with crumbling road verges makes driving a hazardous activity. The provincial road authorities need to prioritise road repairs and development in order to save lives and assist in growing the economy.
While approaching Grahamstown from Fort Beaufort, burning material was strewn across half the road, and a ‘protester’ was running with a shovel full of burning material to close off the road – I just made it through. I was luckier than many others who could not get to work, or those who wanted to get their cargo to port, or those who just wanted to go about their daily lives. These acts of lawlessness in the name of a ‘taxi strike’ need to be sorted out – strong leadership at national, provincial, and local level is needed; the economy cannot be held to ransom by a minority who have no respect for the law, property, or common decency.
Packed and shipped update
Two thirds of this year’s grapefruit crop is now packed and passed for export, as is almost half of the 2021 lemon crop. With bitterly cold weather at the end of May, fruit colour should be excellent. Unfortunately, the Nelspruit and Onderberg regions report some hail events; the impact still needs to be determined and will be reported through the variety focus groups.
The prediction still sits at about 160 million cartons – since the citrus season is about 160 days long this means that one million cartons have to pass through the logistics chain every day!! Any disruption causes build up in the chain, the chain is as strong as its weakest link.