Mentorship & dedication

Trevor Abrahams won the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust Emerging Farmer of the Year award in 2007, increased his 33t harvest in 2003 to 180t last year, and also exports to the UK. He managed to do so with the help of LRAD, the agriculture department, his pension and dedicated mentorship. Wouter Kriel reports.
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Think carefully BEFORE committing yourself and your money to agriculture, as this choice will determine the rest of your life,” says Trevor Abrahams, the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust (DFPT) Emerging Farmer of the Year 2007. But Trevor has no regrets about making it his life’s choice and farms with nectarines and peaches on Deo Volente outside Ceres, in the Warm Bokkeveld.

“I grew up in this area, where my father was a teacher at a farm school. also became a teacher and later a human resource specialist, but farming has always been in my blood.” While teaching, he farmed with cattle on the municipal commonage in Ceres and chaired the Sentraal Farmers’ Union. When plans were made for the construction of the Koekedouw irrigation scheme, government insisted that enough water for the development of 138ha be made available to 16 emerging farmers.

The Sentraal Union was the only group of emerging farmers at the time and this led to Trevor receiving 17ha of land in 1999 and another 20ha in 2005, through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme. As there was no operational money from the government, Trevor sold all his cattle and cashed in his pension from 18 years of teaching and nine years in HR. “had a Nissan 1400 bakkie, some gardening tools, had land and had water,” Trevor says. “But also had a mentor in Robert Graaff, a prominent local farmer.

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He made a deal with me and said he would help develop my farm. I’d pay for everything except his knowledge. And that’s how we started out in 2001.” Since then, they’ve established 2ha of stone fruit every year. Currently there are 7ha of peaches and 10ha of nectarines. F uture plantings will include some pears and maybe plums, as there are exciting cultivars being developed. Cultivar selection is done with Robert and they only plant cultivars that show promise for the export market. “Because we plant the same trees, use the same consultant for irrigation, fertilisers and pesticide management as does,” says Trevor. “Rosenhoff Nursery supplies the trees and is very generous with terms of payment. I’m also a member of the Top Fruit Nectarines Club, which allows me access to exclusive cultivars.”

Trevor also has an experimental block on his farm, where new cultivars are being tested by the Agricultural Research Council. More helping hands n 2005 and 2006, more help came from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme, which made money available for fencing and sheds, while Water Affairs sponsored R27 million for the capital investment all the emerging farmers would have had to pay in order to receive water from the Koekedouw scheme.

The agriculture department also supplied the 12 remaining emerging farmers (four farmers fell by the wayside), who benefited from the Koekedouw irrigation scheme with a pool of tools. “During harvesting it takes careful planning, but we’re managing with the tools we have. Cooling facilities and a closed truck will be needed in the future, but we’re taking one step at a time.” Hard work comes to fruition Trevor’s first harvest was 33t in 2003. Last season, he harvested 180t and when the farm is developed to full capacity, Trevor foresees a production of 500t/year.

The marketing is done through Robert Graaff and the bulk of the fruit is exported to the UK and locally supplied to Woolworths. Deo Volente employs a permanent team of eight men and during peak times, additional labour is sourced on a contract basis. “I’m a strict boss and finding reliable and skilled labour is becoming increasingly difficult,” Trevor says.

Farming with nectarines is challenging, but Trevor believes if you focus on the details and do the right things at the right time, you will be rewarded. “The return on investment in nectarines is higher than in yellow peaches,” he explains. Plantings on Deo Volente are on ridged bunkies to ensure proper drainage, as nectarines are sensitive and don’t like wet roots. Trees are planted according to the traditional 3m spacing in the rows and 5m in between. “High density plantings on trellises are possible these days, but the establishment cost is too high for us at the moment,” says Trevor.

His concluding advice to emerging farmers is, “Be prepared for enormous pressure every day and network with existing industry bodies rather than trying to establish new ones.” In the next three years, Trevor would like to develop the remainder of the farm and after that? “Something bigger,” he smiles. Contact Trevor on 084 525 5037. |fw