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Dries van Rooyen - SAFE

"Vineyards under netting perform far better in a dry hot climate"

South African early grape harvesting is on track to deliver the best produce to global markets according to South African Fruit Exporters (SAFE) General Manager of Farming Operations, Dries van Rooyen.

SAFE has a number of farms across South Africa. This week FreshPlaza visited a SAFE farm near Kakamas in the Northern Cape to see how the season was progressing.

The grape harvest here was 35% complete. According to Van Rooyen, drought conditions in many areas have compelled farmers to make the best use of the water available. But they also have to protect their crop from heavy rain and hail.

SAFE have 73 hectares under nets

"We have learned that the best option is to make use of strategically placed nets and plastic sheeting on the one hand to reduce water lost to evaporation and on the other, to protect our crop when it does rain or when we get hail."

He said another advantage of the netting was that it creates a microclimate that can be manipulated by the farmer to get the best "performance" from his vineyards.

"Vineyards under netting perform far better in a dry hot climate which is what we experience in the Northern Cape. At the moment we have 173 ha under netting in the Northern Cape,” he explained.

Ralli red seedless

New varieties
In order to provide customers with the best produce, SAFE farms are geared to grow and harvest new varieties that come into favour. "In anticipation of this, we recently planted new Red seedless varieties that are now more in favour.

In the Northern Cape among the other new varieties planted are Melody, Jack Salute and Magenta. However SAFE retains vineyards of Early Sweet, Prime and Sugra One grapes as they are still in favour in some markets.

"Ninety two percent of our production is seedless,“ said Dries. "In fact, there are very few seeded grapes anywhere these days."

He said SAFE planned planting to "stretch the season" from as early as possible until the Western Cape begins harvesting in December.

"We need to look at what the market wants at the time that the grapes are in season," said Dries. "As a result of our strategic planning 50 percent of the grapes on this farm are white, 30 percent are red and 20 percent are black.

"In the Western Cape we have 50 percent red varieties, 30 percent white and 20 percent black.

"We strive to reach a balance between the markets,” he said. "We are also looking at varieties for the Asian markets in addition to the European, UK and Middle Eastern markets that we supply."

Dries Van Rooyen and Tiaan Visser, Farm Manager

Acquiring new land
In South Africa it costs up to a million rand per hectare for land planted with vineyards. This includes all the infrastructure, irrigation, offices, staff housing and pack houses.

Companies such as SAFE can only expand their farms on land that has "water rights."

South Africa’s waters are governed by the Water Services Act of 1997 and the National Water Act (NWA) of 1998. The Acts are complementary and provide a framework for sustainable water resource management while enabling improved and broadened service delivery.

Fortunately SAFE has 80 ha of land down-stream of their current operations with water rights that they intend to start planting in the near future.

The nets help to shade the grapes from the heat, it was 40+ degrees in the sun

For the second year running South African growers have seen good returns for early grapes. Last season returns were enhanced by a currency exchange rate favouring exports from South Africa. SAFE expects this season to benefit from a shortage of grapes on EU markets.

Due to in-house efficiencies, SAFE was able to pack 25 percent of their total volumes before week 49 and reached their markets in good time.

The steri protocols for South African grapes going to China this year have changed.
"This is a boost for the growers" says van Rooyen "I am sure this will be a significant new market for SAFE."

According to van Rooyen, it takes 12 hours to transport harvests from the Northern Cape by road to Cape Town for shipping, then 18-24 days for a delivery from South Africa to reach European markets.

"This depends, of course, when the ship is loading and which market they are going to," says van Rooyen

Everything is packed same day and put in the cold store

"Ours is a labour intensive industry and we believe in providing the best opportunities that we can to employ people from local communities. It is difficult to automate in grape farming, so we don't see that happening in the future." says Van Rooyen. "However we will have to introduce new efficiencies in the years to come as far as labour is concerned."

The South African government has increased the minimum wage from 13 ZAR to 20 ZAR per hour. "We employ 400 people in the pack house and a large number of farm workers. So the increase in our wage bill will be considerable. Labour costs are already 55 percent of our expenses."

According to Van Rooyen, new grape varieties are less labour intensive than the older varieties. Nevertheless we will strive to achieve a balance between employment to support local communities and profit for our farms to make sure we remain sustainable.

Click here for more photos

For more information:
Dreis Van Rooyen
Tel: +2721 657 4000
Email:[email protected]