South Africa: Major table grape packhouse to be built through new JV
Two South African table grape farmers have teamed up to develop two farms in the Western Cape and plan to build what will be one of the country's largest packhouses dedicated to the crop.
The project came about after Jacques Beukes of Modderdrift Farms met Tebogo Mogashoa, a grape farmer from Johannesburg who owns Babirwa Breeders. Together they purchased two farms next to each other in the Brandwacht Valley near Worcester, and have now finished the first phase of planting over 62 hectares.
"We were really lucky to get two farms next to each other, and we’re developing 140 hectares in three phases," Beukes told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"We're already finished phase one. Next year we will plant another 60 hectares starting in December, then year after that another 20 hectares. We’re very excited about this project, I think it’s something new in South Africa."
Beukes said it had been a challenge to develop the farmland from scratch as no financial support is received from the government, but he said everything was going well and they were happy with their progress.
A total of around ZAR170 million (US$12 million) is being invested by the two parties, with Modderdrift Farms and Babirwa Breeders both holding stakes in the newly formed company - Brandwacht Table Grape Producers and Exporters.
Around 900,000 4.5-kilo-equivalent cartons of grapes are expected to be produced through the new operation, with the first harvest due in the 2017-18 season.
Only seedless varieties will be planted over the two farms, Brandwacht and Ambiance. The varieties include Sweet Sapphire and Sweet Celebration from International Fruit Genetics (IFG), Sable Seedless and Autumn Crisp from Sun World, and Allison from Special New Fruit Licensing (SNFL). Two dozen hectares of Crimson Seedless will also be planted.
Beukes, who was recently awarded Western Cape Farmer of the Year 2016 by multinational Capespan, said nowadays it was important to adapt to consumer preferences with the seedless varieties.
"There is so much opportunity for new grapes, and we are lucky to have these new varieties in the ground," he said, adding farmers who fell behind the trend would not be able to sell at a premium price.
Half of grape volumes are to be shipped to the U.K., with a quarter going to Europe, 20% to the Far East and 5% to Israel.
On a separate piece of land to the two farms, the project will also see the construction of a packhouse that will be able to handle 1.2 million cartons of table grapes per season.
"It’s going to be probably the biggest table grape packhouse in South Africa, with the latest technologies from places like England and Italy," Beukes said, adding the facility would also be equipped with cold storage facilities.
"The packhouse is ready with the plans, the architects are busy at work, and it will hopefully be standing in November next year for us to start packing in 2018.
"We’re also going to give the smaller next-door neighbor farmers the opportunity to use our cooling facilities and packhouse."
Beukes said a large number of jobs would be created on the project, with about 140 permanent staff and 600 seasonal workers. He added this would be of great benefit to Worcester, which currently has a high unemployment rate.
Modderdrift Farms revenues soar
If Beukes' past experience is anything to go by, the prospects for the new project are strong. Over the last decade he has helped to boost Modderdrift Farms' revenue by 900%, while increasing per-hectare production by more than a third.
He said the increased revenue was achieved through three key areas - production, packing and marketing - with a strong focus on the people in the middle.
"First we looked at production and asked 'how can we lift production by 1,000-2,000 cartons per hectare?' We did this through things like irrigation, technology and new farming systems," he said.
"We then bought a packhouse with the latest software technology. Because table grape packing is so labor-intensive, it was important to track everybody's performance, and by doing so we got better performance out of them. That also improved quality, as if something went wrong we could trace it back and see what happened."
He said the improvement to marketing came naturally after that, as supermarkets wanted to see good fruit quality and tractability systems. But he emphasized the key to success was focusing on the workers.
"It always comes back to the people. We send 40% of our permanent staff for individual training, so we focus on that and food quality a lot. I would recommend any farmer to invest in your people."
A little more than half of Modderdrift Farm's table grape exports are shipped to the U.K., with 15% going to continental Europe and the rest to Asia.