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Former timber farm now a mainstay of the South African kiwi industry
The accidental kiwi farmer
When Danie Meyer bought two farms in the lush countryside of Magoebaskloof, he had its timber plantations in mind for his sawmill, not the farm’s Hayward kiwi orchards. “That was the first time I ever saw a kiwi,” he says – and today, the two farms making up Nooyenskopje not only deliver much (if not most) of South Africa’s kiwi fruit, but every kiwi variety, both commercial and trial, currently present in South Africa, can be found on his farm.
The kiwiberry harvest has just concluded, the third harvest from a young orchard of close to a hectare, all of which is taken by Checkers supermarket; until recently kiwiberries were only available upon import. The green fruit starting next month will supply South African supermarkets, taking his fruit throughout Southern Africa, as well as provide kiwi for cut fruit sold at Marks & Spencer.
Nooyenskopje kiwiberries, a fruit still unfamiliar to most South Africans
In 2008 he started introducing new kiwi varieties on the farm, trials on behalf of the Directorate of Genetic Resources at the Department Of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), many grafted on the original Bruno rootstock, older than 20 years and as study as trees. They’re also multiplying a Nooyenskopje mutation.
Since the trial varieties have not yet been released, he can’t say too much about them but it’s clear that he’s particularly excited about two of them. “This is my blue-eyed boy,” he says of one yellow variety. “It has everything a kiwi should have - a beautiful symmetrical shape and enormous fruit.” The other is a New Zealand variety with heavy-bearing heart-shaped fruit; its trial results have been “phenomenal” and it’s looking so promising that DAFF will soon start evaluating its sugar levels, shelf life and firmness.
Most of the 5ha expansion currently underway at Nooyenskopje will be composed of selected yellow varieties.
Danie Meyer of Nooyenskopje
The farm is a self-sufficient kiwi industry: they keep Bruno to harvest the seed to grow rootstock. Despite some black frost last August, his yield is bountiful and his fruit big (one variety provides fruit of more than 240g), which he ascribes to the fertility of their home-grown pollen.
The Bruno variety, grown for its seed to provide the farm's rootstock
The kiwiberry plants look different to the more vigorous kiwi vines. With their graft high above the ground they resemble standard roses, for the reason that bushbuck and duikers (a small antelope) love kiwiberry leaves, much more than normal kiwi leaves. Vervet monkeys love the fruit (they’re not particular about varieties) and unlike birds, they’re smart enough to twig that a fruit can be both brown and tasty. What’s the use of a vendetta against the area’s original inhabitants, Danie Meyer feels, and so follows an endless game with the monkeys: they’re scared off with crackers (not ammunition) and it lasts two or three days before the monkeys return.
Hail netting has become non-negotiable for fruit production on the Eastern Escarpment
The farms upon the picturesque Eastern Escarpment, just before it drops down dramatically to the Lowveld whence come much of the country’s subtropical crops, receive some of the highest rainfall in South Africa: 2,200mm in a good year, he says. Hail too, especially over the past decade, which can wipe out R2 or R3 million of the harvest within 15 minutes, especially from October to the end of February. “In 2015 we put up hail netting and just when we’d finished, we got hail.”
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