At Dreem Fruit they’re serious about stone fruit, with more than 250 cultivars from ten different breeding programmes currently trialled on their farm in the Breede River Valley between Worcester and Wolseley. “I am interested in the innovation side of stone fruit and from these evaluations we have selected ranges to align with retailers,” says Leonard Droomer of Rouzelle Farm.
The new harvest starts in week 46 or 47 with early flat peach (paraguayo) varieties. They have 40% nectarines (a segment set to grow), rounded out with 40% peaches and 20% plums.
“The new season is looking very positive for us. We have had great flowering on all stone fruit. Some blocks are about ten days late, but the flower quality is looking good. Wood quality is also good, so we are hoping for a good crop,” he says, adding that a re-run of the October 2018 heatwave is a definite concern.
“Last year we lost about 50% of fruit on some blocks. After thinning we had a three or four day heat wave and many trees aborted fruit.”
Autumn Crunch, a yellow cling peach, in flower
“It wasn’t an exceptionally wet winter, and we haven’t had snow yet, which is a problem for our groundwater, but our dams are full and most guys in this area think that they’ll get their dams full before summer.”
Stone fruit specialist
Since the Droomer family purchased the wine farm thirteen years ago, they’ve introduced stone fruit and lessened their reliance on the wine grapes for which the region is famous.
“We have undergone an aggressive expansion project into stone fruit, particularly niche varieties, and are currently 34% stone fruit and 66% wine grapes,” says Leonard.
Late mandarins and seedless lemons will become their third crop with the aim of diversifying risk.
“Even if the soft citrus price halved and the prices for wine grapes doubled, it still makes more sense to plant citrus,” notes Leonard. He continues that the climate is becoming more unpredictable, making it vital to spread a farm’s risk through a completely new crop, with different flowering and harvest times. It doesn’t hurt that citrus offers some respite from the intensive stone fruit cultivar race.
About half of Dreem Fruit’s stone fruit production is marketed by Delecta Fruit, much of it destined for Marks & Spencer stores in the UK. It is a fruitful partnership, not least because Delecta is a producer-owned export company and, he says, they therefore really understand the challenges of farming.
Cracking the flat peach code
In 2011 they started growing flat peaches (paraguayo), a variety that’s proven difficult to cultivate in the Western Cape. “We find that at around a week before harvesting the fruit splits, something it doesn’t do in Spain,” he says, adding that they are testing 20 or 30 flat peach cultivars, hoping to hit upon the winning cultivar for flat peach cultivation in South Africa.
A block of flat peach in full flower at the moment (photos: Leonard Droomer)
All of their fruit will be packed on site in a packshed which will be expanded in the next 18 months as many of their young plantings come online. “The plan is to build a shed that operates twelve months of the year, with the main focus on stone fruit from November to March, and citrus from April to September. Stone fruit is very fragile, and you need to be able to guarantee quality. You therefore need to be hands-on at the packing stage.”
Leonard believes that brands will become more important in agriculture. “As a producer you need to align with companies that have brands you believe in. As an individual grower, you grow other companies’ brands, but you need to understand the bigger picture.”
Employee satisfaction is another, often overlooked, advantage of being aligned with a strong brand, he says.