Irrigation unlocks value for Sandveld potatoes

Sponsored by Agrico

Stephan & Seun Farming in the Western Cape is ambitious and technologically driven. Their potato cultivation leans heavily on irrigation, and Agrico has been their trusted supplier for decades.

Irrigation unlocks value for Sandveld potatoes
Johan Stephan (right) examines a potato plant with Agrico branch manager Niël Carstens.
Photo: Supplied
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Stephan & Seun was founded in the 1960s when the Stephan family planted their first potatoes in the Piketberg sand. Today, the team consists of around 140 permanent members who, in Johan Stephan’s words, “specialise in potatoes”.

Their path crossed in the 1970s with that of Agrico (at that time P Andrag & Seuns). Decades later, Agrico is still Stephan & Seun’s preferred irrigation supplier, with Piketberg branch manager Niël Carstens at the helm.

Throughout the year, mainly Mondial, as well as Lanorma and Sifra potatoes are cultivated on this land.

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“We produce potatoes 12 months of the year. This means that in any given month, every production phase will take place, from harvesting to planting to packing and marketing. There is always something going on,” says Stephan.

An Agrico centre pivot on a Stephan & Seun farm, with a blue PVC pipe on top of its structure to transport the area’s corrosive water.

Regular small doses of water

It is critical to constantly keep your finger on the soil moisture when producing in the Sandveld. The low water holding capacity of the sand requires regular small doses of water. Many Sandveld farmers believe that the soil profile must be moist to a certain depth before planting.

When the plant’s growth rate later increases and the foliage develops, you can be sure that the thirsty plant has been taken care of.

For potatoes, Carstens recommends pivots with a 12mm spray package, which can deposit 12mm of water in 24 hours.

“You’re most likely going to spray less than 12mm, but it’s important for us to also take the extremes into account,” explains Carstens. “We want to know how much water is needed if there is a heatwave, and then we want to set up Plan B in case of any problems. Just a day or two of interruption in irrigation at the wrong time can lead to huge loss in production.”

The farm’s water is pumped from boreholes into ponds and then on to 32 Agrico centre pivots. Once here, a new challenge awaits. The notoriously corrosive water of the Sandveld can be extremely damaging to an irrigation system.

Therefore, Agrico placed PVC pipes on top of the galvanised pipes of the centre pivots. This ensures that the water does not run through the structure itself, and the system is protected.

How to cut costs in challenging times

According to Stephan, it is more critical than ever that farmers prioritise cost savings and ensure that their production cycle performs optimally. That is why all the centre pivots and pumps on their farm are equipped with Agrico Web Control and VSDs (variable speed drives).

The system varies the pressure according to the exact need at any given time and leads to great power savings, especially where there are height differences in the topography.

The management team saw the use for Web Control when power outages were first introduced years ago, and introduced a remote-control solution.

“We are excited about Web Control. The system helps us save power and improve effiency. Now we have a holistic view of our irrigation: we can monitor, manage and document it as it plays out,” says Stephan.

The value of an irrigation team

There are farmers who believe that service is just as important as the quality of the product itself. This is one of the reasons why Stephan & Son has been working with Agrico all these years.

“As farmers, we have to make sure that we produce profitably in the midst of so many challenges. When it comes to the equipment and complicated technology, we need good support, and Agrico really specialises in irrigation systems,” says Stephan.

“Today, Agrico is an advanced company with branches all over the country, and strong central administration and support from Bellville and Lichtenburg. They spend time to solve problems and it feels like they understand what farmers are going through and what their unique challenges are.”

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