When Kosie Eloff decided that he wanted to farm he did not have the luxury of having inherited land or taking over an existing farming business. He and his two brothers, Frits and Hannes, bought a neglected and overgrown farm between Morebeng (formerly Soekmekaar) and Makhado (formerly Louis Trichardt) in Limpopo.
“There wasn’t even a farmhouse or packhouse on this land, so we had to start from scratch,” Kosie recalls.
That was 25 years ago. Today the business is a successful commercial venture called Agrivet – a partnership between the Eloff family, Westfalia Fruit (the main shareholder), and the Badirammoho Trust. The Eloffs formed the trust for 80 of their farmworkers in 2002, who now own 17% of Agrivet.
Kosie’s son, Manie, farms with him, and Kosie’s wife, Liza, is also involved in the daily running of the business.
The farm has 10ha planted to granadillas, 10ha to guavas and 200ha to avocados. The granadillas are sold as fresh fruit on the national fresh produce markets, used in juice production and for tinned pulp.
“Granadillas cannot be farmed as a sideline crop,” he says, adding that they are an excellent cash crop as they bear fruit all year round, which improves cash flow. However, granadillas are a high-maintenance crop that requires significant capital outlay to establish and produce.
“We’re blessed that the farm has perfect mild weather for granadillas. This makes it possible to harvest throughout the year. Our vines flower all year round except in June and July when temperatures are lower,” Kosie says.
Granadillas do not perform well in regions that get frost or are particularly humid and hot, as this makes the plants more susceptible to disease. The plants mature quickly and fruit can be harvested within eight months of planting.
Trellising & set-up costs
Granadillas are vine plants and require trellis structures strong enough to carry the weight of mature vines.
“The trellising will be your biggest expense when starting out. Budget about R100 000/ ha for set-up costs, which includes soil preparation and plant material,” advises Kosie.
He cautions against using cheap materials to construct the trellis structures.
“If you cut corners, it could lead to the entire structure collapsing and the crop being damaged.”
He uses treated wooden poles to keep termites away and galavanised wire to prevent rust. He also purchases only high-quality young plants, despite their higher cost, as it is important to start out with healthy and disease-free plants.
The granadilla vines and tendrils are trained to attach to the trellis framework. When the plants are newly established, Kosie regularly walks around the ‘vineyard’ attaching longer vines to the wire to encourage upward growth.
Beehives should also be factored into start-up costs, says Kosie, as fruit development is dependent on flower pollination. He has 500 beehives on the farm and hires more when necessary.
Pruning & spacing
Kosie points out that pruning is necessary to stimulate new growth and fruit development. Pests and diseases are less likely to affect the crop if the inner parts of the plants receive enough light and air. Thinning out the vines enables pest control sprays to reach all parts of the plant.
The amount of pruning required depends on the plant spacing. If planting is too dense, regular pruning will be necessary.
“I’d advise against dense planting because pruning is labour- intensive and this pushes up production costs. For this reason, we prune very little,” he says.
To prune densely-cultivated granadillas would require eight people per hectare. However, if the plants are too far apart, yield per hecatre is reduced.
“The closer the plants [are to each other], the greater the yield – it’s critical to get the balance right. We once made the mistake of planting too densely and then had to prune continually,” he recalls.
Their newer structures were designed to accommodate spacing of 1m between plants.
“We prefer to plant a little further apart because then we need only one to two people per hectare for pruning.”
Fighting pests & diseases
Pest and disease control as well as fertilising are the greatest expenses in Kosie’s operation.
“Granadillas have a very high disease burden and because of its intensive cropping pattern, it also has a high fertiliser requirement,” he says.
Granadillas need nitrogen, phosphate and potassium as well as calcium and magnesium, as this improves shell and fruit quality, according to Kosie. Calcium and magnesium are imported, so fertiliser costs have increased significantly due to the weak exchange rate.
Fungal diseases, as well as fruit fly, mealy bug, stink bug, thrips and pumpkin fly, are some of the pests that commonly affect granadillas. “Pests are severe, so it’s important to have a well-structured spraying programme and not to deviate from it,” says Kosie.
The crop is also susceptible to root rot and nematodes, and this is why soil preparation is important.
If the crop is established in good soil, it will utilise nutrients more effectively, have a greater tolerance to disease, and produce a high yield. Healthy soil also aids in root development and ensures sufficient drainage, he says.
Working with nature
On Kosie’s farm, crop damage caused by monkeys is a serious problem. Monkeys pick fruit from the vines, eat the flesh and discard the shells. However, he does not want to eradicate wildlife from the farm.
“You have to work with nature. By cultivating crops, we create a habitat for wild animals so we can’t blame them if they cause damage. This is why we plant an extra 5% to accommodate fruit loss.”
A dedicated farmer can make a profit from granadillas, if he applies good agricultural production practices, Kosie says.
“I advise anyone who wants to grow granadillas to be sure that it’s really what he or she wants to farm because it’s expensive. You can lose a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Phone Kosie Eloff on 082 448 1907.