South Africa’s kiwifruit industry may be small but its largest grower is expanding production and the range of varieties to capitalise on new market opportunities, building on an existing client base of the country’s top supermarkets and a small export detail to England.
Nooyenskopje owner Danie Meyer tells PBUK the season underway right now is going very well, bolstered by the high rainfall levels typical of his growing area around the Magoebaskloof mountains in Limpopo.
When asked whether the 1,500mm of rain that has fallen since December would lead to problems with fruit condition such as fungal outbreaks, Meyer says the situation is on the contrary, highlighting his farm’s unique position.
“We have virtually no pests or fungus or any bacterial rot at all because of the very high cold climate we have – even in the summer it’s very cool in the mountainous area,” he says of the farm in Haenertsburg.
“We’re in a highly forested area as well – the fortunate situation is that we’re very isolated. There are no other fruit producing orchards in the area where you would have insects or some problems that can migrate.”
The company is currently producing on 27 hectares of land with 250 metric tonnes (MT) of kiwifruit expected this year, but through expansion and the maturing of young trees output is set to rise and change in profile in the future.
“We’ve cleared some land on the forests and we are going to add another seven hectares,” he says.
“With the hectares of yellow that are also coming into production with much higher yields, I think next year we’ll do close to 60MT of the yellow only, so I think it will eventually go to 300MT plus in the not-too-distant future.”
Meyer says the Nooyenskopje farm, at around 1,800 metres above sea level, is able to get mature gold kiwifruit on the vines as early as January.
“The yellow ones have a privileged window because of the climate. We already have fruit available at the end of January, and then we’re in full production in February,” he says.
The green kiwifruit harvest starts in March and carries on until the end of May or early June, depending on conditions.
The company sells fruit domestically to retailers Shoprite, Woolworths and Spar, as well as about 5MT per week exporting to Marks & Spencer in England.
“Mainly our biggest production is Hayward, the green ones, but we recently started with the yellow ones.
“I’m really working closely with the Department of Agriculture’s genetic division where we are working with them as well as the University of Stellenbosch’s genetics department where we do an evaluation for them as well – we have close to 65 varieties there where we also act as an experimental farm on kiwifruit as well.
Speaking of specific gold varieties, he sees great potential for the Jintao cultivar of Italian company Jingold, while another Italian variety Soreli has not fared as well.
“Because of the season, we found Soreli have beautiful fruit but at the moment my experience is they are getting ripe on the vines. The pressures are not doing that well.
“It’s the first time ever I saw yellow kiwifruit ripening on vines. It was not because of any fruit fly damage; they just tend to ripen that way.”
He says there is another grower in the area producing gold varieties on around two hectares of land, while across South Africa there are around 15 newcomers to the market.
“Just three years ago they started with the Skelton varieties…this is the first year where they produced limited volumes of fruit but I was not really impressed with the quality people were putting on the market. I think there’s a big learning curve for the new producers,” he says.
“I think the biggest plantings on the yellow ones is mainly in Natal, between 10-15 hectares.”