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Kobus Bothma - Capespan
Namibia: Investing in new varieties
"This year we have had an early season here in Namibia," explained Kobus Bothma from Capespan Namibia. "Normally packing would start mid November but this year we started on the 4th of November and packing will continue till the first week of January."
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"We are still looking to extend the season by starting earlier, at the moment it is week 44 but we could go a couple of weeks earlier with new varieties. It is an advantage for us to have this gap in the market when we start. This year we started 10 days earlier and the Spanish and Italian volumes were off the market by then."
Capespan Namibia's packhouse
"When we packed the Early Sweet and Flame there was big demand for them so we had four very good weeks. The Northern Cape (ZA) has started packing now so we will be together on the market with them from now on but being earlier means we can also have the late varieties in a good timeslot. In South Africa they pack Crimson seedless in the Hex River, the latest area, in March, while we pack it before Christmas."
For Capespan which grows in Namibia, as well all of the South African regions, it means they can deliver the varieties over a longer period of time to extend the season. They can now supply varieties like Thompson for six or seven weeks instead of three.
As well as the traditional varieties the company also invested in new varieties like Cotton Candy, Sweet Saphire, Jack Salute, Magenta,Timco, Melody, Sweet Celebration, Arra 10, 13, 14 and 15, at NGC.
"We have a new test plot here at NGC which we started this year and will test varieties over a 3 years period. At the moment we have 21 trial varieties planted in 2016."
"Planting of new varieties is market driven, but also needs to be viable. You have to plant something which the market wants, for example if the market wants Cotton Candy then we will test the variety to see how it produces here. The market for Cotton Candy is not that big, so we will produce the variety and supply to certain niche markets."
"The aim for us is to produce good quality grapes at an economical cost. If you can do that you will always be competitive in the global market."
Everyone is talking about the market becoming flooded with grapes but there are still so many markets to be developed, such as China and the African market.
A big change has been an increase in demand on the South African domestic market in the last few years. Nowadays supermarkets are paying almost the same as the export price and some special retail lines sell for more than the export price.
"Africa is also becoming a bigger player and the market more refined. A few years ago we only sold cartons but the market now moved towards punnets. The African markets are very close to us so we can supply by means of trucks. The cooling facilities do need to improve but there are a few South African retailers opening new outlets and they have good cold storage facilities."
Kobus states that the Far East markets can also still expand a lot and he doesn't think this market will become flooded soon.
The importance of having a program in place
"These days you have to put a huge effort into marketing grapes and it is no longer a case of just producing and shipping the product," explains Kobus. "You need to invest in new varieties and special lines. Punnets are becoming the norm as people are moving away from buying loose packaging.
He said it is important to make sure you have fixed programs each season, "As long as you have that you will succeed. You can't look for a market after you have produced, you need to have fixed programs in place. If you are in an over supplied market and you don’t have sufficient programs in place you will always find it difficult to achieve good results."
Growing grapes in Namibia
In Namibia you need to plan your farming operation well in advance. If you need something then it has to come mostly from South Africa which is at best an eight hour drive away. The grapes are exported via Cape Town harbour and all the trucks have to cross the border, which may be time consuming.
This is a very low risk area with no frost, hail and very little, if any rain. It gets very hot here so growers need to develop a good canopy to protect the bunches from the direct sun. On the day we visited it was a pretty a 'cool' 40 degrees but the temperature can get up to 50 degrees in heat wave condition.
Growing methods are different from those in South Africa, as regards pruning, spraying, irrigation and manipulation programs. The vines need to be irrigated year round because it is so dry but there is a lot less spraying to be done.
Aussenkehr has more than 2000 ha of table grapes already planted with a lot more land available for development which will likely take place in the next few years. Production should reach 10m x 4.5kg cartons in 5 years.
Aussenkehr was originally one farm owned by Dusan Vasiljevic. Now land has also been bought by different companies and they are investing in new developments.
The road into the valley was only tarred a few years ago and stops before you get to the village where 20,000 workers live in traditional reed huts. The valley first got electricity in 1998, before that everything was run on diesel generators, so in the beginning expansion was slow. The whole power system is now upgraded and last year there were a lot of power outages. Upgrades will finish in about 18 months and then the bigger development can begin. Electricity is essential to pump water from the Orange river out to the vineyards and Capespan Namibia are just completing a new system of pumps to improve the capacity of the irrigation system.
There is solar power plant already in the valley and another one is planned.
When FreshPlaza visited Aussenkehr in week 49 the mighty Orange River was very low, in fact just down stream from the Capespan plantations it actually ran dry. Kobus explained that this was very rare, and the lowest level it has been in 35 years. He was confident that the water which has been released in South Africa a couple of days earlier will reach Aussenkher very soon.
Workers travel from the north of Namibia for the season. According to Kobus people want to work and the grape industry pays well so they have a good supply of labour.
Namibia has only 2.5 million people and three main industries - Fishing, Mining and Agriculture.
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