South African raisin grower looks to boost yields

Gerrit Nel (right) and Franco Krugel of Perde Eiland Farming

11 Mar 2020 | Article published in IEG VU Agribusiness
By Julian Gale | @JulianFoodNews | julian.gale@ihsmarkit.com
South African raisin grower looks to boost yields
South African raisin producer Perde Eiland Farming has introduced the Selma Pete variety to its orchards and initial yields are expected to be around 11-12 tonnes per hectare.

Nel was talking to trade visitors to his farm on March 3 as part of a business tour organised and hosted by Raisins South Africa and its UK marketing and PR representative Red Communications.

Nel pointed out that there is a gap of about 3.2 metres between each row of grapes in the orchard and the company aims for 480-550 grapes per bunch. Its yield average is currently 10.89 tonnes (dried) per ha. This compares with the 5.4 tonnes/ha across the South African raisin industry as a whole.

Nel said that in his experience raisins dry slightly faster when placed on a concrete base at ground level than the alternative sun drying method of elevated netting, but added that the raised netting method is the future of the industry for Thompson raisins and sultanas in South Africa.

“We are using the raised netting to prevent stones and we get a premium for the raisins dried this way as we find you get a better quality raisin from the raised netting,” he explained.
Typically, those raisins dried on the ground level concrete are ready for the next stage in the production process four days ahead of those on the elevated netting. Nel’s farm is in the Kakamas area, about 80 km from Upington.

Kakamas is in the Lower Orange river whereas Upington is in the Upper Orange River. Nel noted there are a lot of export farms in his area.

Perde Eiland Farming was fortunate in receiving only limited rainfall of about 12 millimetres on February 26, whereas most other South African raisin growers have been deluged with at least 23 mm so far this year. Some farmers in Upington cited levels as high as 80 mm to date. Nel expects a reasonable production of 800 tonnes from his farm this year.

He revealed that he is able to formulate an idea of the grading of the raisins from the weight of each bin of new crop material. “Bin weight is crucial,” Nel said.

Perde Eiland Farming operates under the guidelines of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). Hence, the farm is 51% owned by its black workers. “I give 51% of the money we make to the workers. The balance of 49% goes to me,” Nel explained.

Funding is provided by Pioneer Foods, which is able to score points on its BEE scorecard as a result of its support.

Nel borrowed money from Pioneer Foods to purchase the ground the develop it and then he gave 51% of the share to the employees on the farm (for free, to show his appreciation towards them for working so hard and because he wanted to give back to his people). Perde Eiland pays the money back out of its own proceeds, which is totally separate from Nel's other farms.

Nel remarked: “We benefit from the expertise of these farmers.”

All the BEE products from Perde Eiland Farming go to Pioneer Foods which then exports them.

Pioneer Foods runs a number of soup kitchens and food schemes at schools and communities.

Nel is the mentor to the BEE scheme. He said he is aware of seven BEE projects throughout Africa.

Perde Eiland Farming was established in March 1992.