Whereas manufacturing on most grape farms within the Orange River area has taken a knock this season resulting from hostile climate situations, GPA Boerdery has managed to realize a good harvest. Lourens Maass and his son Kobus, who run GPA, spoke to Glenneis Kriel about their recipe for fulfillment.
Unfavourable weather conditions within the Orange River area this season have triggered a major drop in manufacturing on most wine, desk grape and raisin farms.
In response to Jacques Ferreira, supervisor of economic industrial affairs on the South African Desk Grape Trade, the area delivered 16,4 million 4,5kg-equivalent cartons of desk grapes for export inspection this season. This was about 27% lower than the earlier season and about 17% lower than the area’s five-year common.
The Orange River area produces 85% to 87% of South Africa’s raisin provide. Raisins South Africa reported that the nation produced 78 757t of raisins final season, with manufacturing anticipated to say no to between 63 000t and 68 000t this season.
Charl du Plessis, CEO of Orange River Cellars in Upington, says that wine-grape manufacturing within the area averages round 35t/ ha, however was nearer to 20t/ha this season.
Regardless of the decline in all three grape sorts, some farmers, comparable to father-and-son-team Lourens and Kobus Maass of GPA Boerdery close to the city of Grootdrink, are nonetheless producing first rate volumes.
Lourens says that in the course of the 2021/22 season, they achieved 2,5t extra raisins per hectare than the business common, though the 2022/23 harvest was 19% decrease than final season’s.
Nonetheless, the standard of their raisins was significantly better than the earlier season, when many grapes had been downgraded on account of a downy mildew outbreak. Lourens provides that the improved high quality greater than made up for the diminished quantity.
Their 2022/23 wine-grape manufacturing was 5% larger than final season’s, however about 10% decrease than their long-term common.
Preserving it easy
Lourens and Kobus attribute their success to the truth that they do the fundamentals properly, which to them means “doing the best factor on the proper time”.
“The poor financial system, mixed with the sharp enhance in enter prices, has made it too costly to make errors or experiment with new tendencies.
“As a substitute, you need to use tried-and-tested [methods] and get assist from fellow farmers and different consultants to make well-informed choices if you get caught,” says Kobus.
Even so, they admit that some environmental elements counted of their favour. Lourens explains that about half of their vineyards are situated above the floodline of the Orange River.
Consequently, there’s significantly better airflow in these vineyards than in these nearer to the river or on the river islands. This in flip ensures that they’re much less inclined to fungal illnesses comparable to downy mildew, which was the most important manufacturing problem within the area over the previous two seasons.
Their vineyards are additionally planted in shale soil, which dries quicker than the clayish soil nearer to the river. This makes it simpler for them to entry the vineyards to carry out important upkeep work.
Select the best crops
Requested to increase on “getting the fundamentals proper”, Lourens says that step one is to decide on the perfect crops and cultivars for the manufacturing situations.
GPA Boerdery at present has 14ha planted to wine grapes, 30ha to grapes for raisin manufacturing, and 20ha to pecan nuts.
“We used to have 30ha planted to desk grapes, however stopped rising them in round 2012 due to the excessive threat of frost and rain at instances when these varieties are significantly susceptible.
“It additionally not made sense once we took into consideration rising enter prices, elevated competitors, and the excessive export requirements with which desk grapes must comply,” says Lourens.
He provides that there aren’t any table-grape producers left within the japanese a part of the area, the place he and Kobus farm. Nonetheless, his expertise with desk grapes has taught him loads.
“Most farmers who grew up producing desk grapes are likely to retain the diligence and precision with which we labored these vineyards. So once we swap over to wine grapes and [grapes for raisin production], we’re extra in tune with what’s taking place in our vineyards and how one can use our inputs extra effectively.”
Turning to raisin manufacturing, he says that they’ve stopped farming sultanas, which previously was the primary selection for this use within the area. Sultanas, he explains, are delicate to rain harm and have decrease yields than a few of the new and improved grape varieties, comparable to Selma Pete, Sugra 39 and Merbein, that he and Kobus now use. Greater than half their vineyards comprise the Flame Seedless cultivar.
“This may be produced for the desk grape or [raisin] market, so we merely switched a few of the outdated vineyards from desk grape to raisin manufacturing, and have since planted extra hectares. I’ll positively plant extra Flame Seedless sooner or later, as a result of it offers good yields, produces good grades even when it rains, and performs higher than any of the opposite varieties underneath our weather conditions. A few of the others are liable to alternate bearing,” explains Lourens.
They graft most of their raisin varieties onto 143B MGT rootstocks, that are greatest suited to their deep clay lime soils. The rest, their Shiraz and Chenin Blanc wine grapes planted within the shale soils above the floodline, are grafted onto Ramsey rootstocks.
The best factor on the proper time
Whereas downy mildew had a devastating influence on the grape harvests of the earlier two seasons, Lourens efficiently managed the danger within the 2022/23 season, because of his adviser, Francois Ozrovech, a crop-protection specialist at InteliGro.
“We used to start out our downy mildew spraying programme after the rain, however two seasons in the past, Francois suggested me to start earlier. I argued that it was pointless, and my failure to take action resulted within the illness having a extreme influence on the standard of my grapes in the course of the two seasons that adopted,” admits Lourens.
Within the season thereafter, they applied a extra rigorous programme than typical in mid-January, earlier than any indicators of an infection, and this helped to scale back high quality losses in 2022/23. They made as many as 5 fungicide functions to some vineyards, up till March. This season, they began with a downy mildew spore load that was decrease than earlier than, because of their stricter administration and the drier situations. For that reason, they reverted to a much less intensive programme.
They alternate their fungicides to stop the event of fungicide resistance.
Kobus factors out that they don’t use copper sulphate to handle illnesses.
“Systemic fungicides are translocated into the plant system, whereas contact fungicides like copper sulphate solely destroy the fungi they arrive into contact with. A contact fungicide could make it look as should you’ve received the battle, solely so that you can uncover a couple of days later that the issue is uncontrolled.”
It isn’t sufficient to easily do the best factor on the proper time as soon as and anticipate to reap the advantages on an ongoing foundation. Actions should be applied persistently, over a few years, says Lourens.
This begins with the institution of recent vineyards. “That you must do a soil evaluation, appropriate dietary deficiencies and put together the soil correctly earlier than you plant. The vines you begin with additionally should be wholesome and robust, as a result of a sick vine won’t ever carry out in addition to a wholesome vine. From then on, it’s good to give the vines what they want on the proper time.”
Soil samples are taken each three to 4 years to analyse the vines’ nitrogen, phosphate and potassium necessities. The Maasses’ fertilisation programme is tailored based on these outcomes, the vines’ wants at completely different development phases, and the crop masses on the finish of every season.
“You aren’t solely trying on the present season,” says Lourens. “That you must be sure that the vines have sufficient reserves to take them by the following one. Stress will makes vines extra susceptible to pests and illnesses, and can stop them from fulfilling their full genetic potential.”
Leaf samples are taken in the course of the manufacturing season to establish trace-element deficiencies, that are corrected with foliar sprays.
“Don’t skimp on chemical compounds, fertilisers, water or pruning, as you’ll find yourself with decrease yields and poor-quality fruit. My father, Gert, used to warn that ‘it can save you your self out of business’ by attempting to chop prices.
“However, these inputs must be used appropriately and as exactly as doable so that you don’t waste cash.”
Caring for the atmosphere
Lourens and Kobus use chemical pest-management options as sparingly as doable in an effort to keep away from disturbing the biodiversity on the farm.
“We don’t have many pest issues underneath regular situations, because of our dry weather conditions. Our common annual rainfall is round 160mm,” explains Lourens.
Nonetheless, Sugra 39 and Selma Pete are susceptible to leafhoppers, so are handled preventatively with a single insecticide software each November.
“We have now to maintain leafhoppers underneath management, or they’ll destroy the ‘manufacturing unit’ of the plant by sucking the leaves dry,” he provides.
The Maasses even have a set programme to handle rust, and adapt it based on the danger and the severity of the issue.
“With rust, we’ve learnt to spray earlier than flowering, in any other case we lose cash,” says Lourens.
Hold it cool
Weeds are left within the vineyards as soil cowl. “Temperatures right here can attain above 40°C, which bakes the soil. The weeds assist to maintain the soil cool, stopping it from drying out and defending soil organisms.” The weeds are mulched after they develop too excessive.
An issue usually skilled with cowl crops is that they compete with the vines for water. This isn’t an issue on the Maasses’ farm, as they’ve ample water. What’s extra, roughly half of their vineyards are underneath flood irrigation, whereas these away from the floodline are underneath both drippers or micro-sprinklers, relying on the soil kind.
Kobus explains that vineyards the place the soil has decrease water-holding capability have micro-sprinklers to make sure that sufficient water is delivered on scorching days, whereas these the place the soil has higher water-holding capability are fitted with drippers.
Whereas using micro-sprinklers and drip irrigation is extra water-efficient than flood irrigation, flood irrigation is a saviour throughout load-shedding, because the water is delivered by way of gravity, not electrical energy, to the farm. Consequently, the farm doesn’t must incur additional prices within the type of turbines to supply irrigation on the proper instances.
Farm the sunshine
The success of a harvest is drastically influenced by vine administration. Kobus says the intention of their summer time pruning is to “open up” the vineyards to make sure good mild penetration and air motion.
“You want the sunshine to penetrate the cover to make sure the vines’ future fertility. The great airflow helps to stop the event of fungal illnesses,” he explains.
Their winter pruning technique depends upon the vigour of the range in query. With some, all of the bearers are shortened; with others, 4 to 6 are left. Most of their vines are pruned to 4 brief bearers per facet, as the brand new varieties are far more vigorous than the older ones.
Kobus says his grandfather used to say that “a wire doesn’t carry any grapes”, so that they attempt to cowl the entire wire with branches.
“We twist the bearers across the wire, which appears to activate the budding course of.”
The place some farmers begin pruning in Could, the Maasses prune fairly late within the season, in the direction of the third week of July.
“The development is to prune later within the season. For us, it helps to stretch the harvest interval by per week or two,” says Kobus.
A staff of about 40 well-trained staff make sure that every thing is completed on time, with two controllers shifting up and down the vineyards to make sure that the vines are pruned appropriately and to deal with issues as they come up.
Good succession planning is one other requirement to make sure the way forward for a farm. Lourens factors out that his grandfather, additionally Lourens, was one of many first farmers within the area within the Thirties, and Kobus is now the fourth era on the farm.
Kobus, who’s in his late twenties, grew up on the farm and joined the operation straight after ending highschool in 2013.
Father and son take pleasure in farming collectively. “We make an excellent staff, as Kobus is kind of hands-on within the workplace and on the advertising and marketing facet, whereas I like being exterior, in the course of the motion on the farm,” says Lourens.
He provides that the problem for farmers rising older is to offer the following era leeway to function as they see match.
“It’s straightforward to change into set in your methods, however it’s good to have an open thoughts and provides your [child] room to make errors and discover [their] personal manner.”
Kobus says communication is the important thing to the success of this type of relationship.
“We argue like cat and canine some days, however ultimately we put our variations apart as a result of we realise that each of us need what’s greatest for the enterprise.”
E mail Lourens Maass at [email protected].