The subtropical hills and valleys of Hazyview in Mpumalanga were once home to numerous litchi producers. But the difficulties of having to harvest in December, when labour is scarce and prices are low due to market oversupply, saw farmers increasingly ditching the crop.
These challenges have not deterred litchi producer Pieter Luus, however. Although he has also ventured into macadamia production, his 10ha of 18-year-old Mauritius litchis are still very much part of the farm’s success.
Luus notes that litchi trees remain productive for 50 years, depending on how well they are looked after. So he pays close attention to this aspect, in particular maintaining a robust pruning regime. Since litchi trees produce fruit only on new branches, they have to be pruned both for production and to keep them at an optimal size.
“The trees must be maintained in an umbrella shape, with light able to penetrate the middle of the tree,” Luus told farmersweekly.co.za. “Litchi trees grow very quickly, and windows for sunlight must be cut regularly to ensure that the tree doesn’t die off on the inside.”
Pruning needs to take place as soon as possible; in fact, it forms part of the harvesting process, with bearing branches being broken off as the litchis are picked. After harvest, the workers perform another round of branch removal, taking care not to remove more than a third of the tree’s branches.
Luus says that getting the fertiliser programme right and timing the applications correctly make all the difference to yield. Some nutrients are especially time-sensitive. He has adjusted his fertiliser regime over the years, paying close attention to the timing of nitrogen applications.
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