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Ilona Pohl, Louisa Jacobs – Montina Boerdery

“It’s more than land and crops: it’s our heritage and future”

The late mandarin harvest will start on Monday – words that many believed could never be said of Mooketsi in Limpopo Province, but Eugene Pohl decided not to heed the conventional wisdom.

Five years ago, Tango orchards were planted on the farms remaining to Montina Boerdery after a land restitution claim. Now they wish they'd started sooner with soft citrus, says Ilona Pohl, and they'll eventually probably enlarge their Tango component, marketed through FruitOne. Two weeks ago, they planted lemons.

The unpredictability of the weather is currently their biggest challenge, she says; Montina Boerdery's marketer Louisa Jacobs adds: "We have to adapt our programmes literally weekly. Our normal summer rainfall is 400mm, and we've had 225mm so far this year. It has definitely put pressure on our production, but what saddens me is that it's not going to have a noticeable effect on the prices we get."

They remark that prices back on farm are at the same levels of a decade ago, not following the upwards movement of food price inflation in stores, but the moral imperative to feed the nation, their passion for farming and their faith power them through all setbacks. "We feel ourselves enormously privileged to be a part of this industry. We feel truly blessed to be able to walk this journey," Jacobs says. "When farming is in your veins," Pohl remarks, "You are fearless."

Winter veg production
They grow nearly every labour-intensive vegetable that South Africans eat, harvesting and preparing by hand, all except tomatoes, which four generations of Pohls had grown until the coming of "that terrible moth" Tuta absoluta which followed them from Mooketsi to Letsitele.

The Mooketsi district takes over winter vegetable production from the Brits district's summer production for delivery to municipal markets across the country, to the private Mooketsi market, as well as supplying supermarkets and processors.

Right: Montina Boerdery's green, yellow and red peppers

"We supply from here to Timbuktu," Jacobs jokes, but on a serious note she observes that every term when she and Eugene Pohl visit the markets across the country, they can see signs of further deterioration.

"At the start of the year, we suffered serious losses when the Johannesburg market was without electricity for a week. We put in a claim which they paid, but we're forced to look elsewhere for marketing opportunities. Vegetable farming has become very challenging."

However, they maintain that the municipal markets are still a pivotal marketing channel in South Africa. "We remain very grateful to our loyal buyers and to our dynamic market agents who look after our best interests."

Very early in the avocado season
Six years ago Fuerte avocado orchards were established and this year, Montina marketed its own crop of very early avocados which came through over 40°C temperatures for a prolonged period last November which reduced the crop.

"Avocado prices are so good at the time of the year when we harvest - from week 4 to week 6 - that we need not export any avocados. The crop has long been harvested, and our trees are already setting their new crop."

Montina Boerdery grows Thai and bullet chillies, as well as garlic.

Farming is not merely a job, Louisa points out. "Together we want to take hands and make a difference, not only in farming but in the lives of everyone who is on this journey with us."

"This farm is more than land and crops," asserts Pohl. "It's our family's heritage and future."

For more information:
Louisa Jacobs
Montina Boerdery
Email: [email protected]