When someone’s name comes up repeatedly, as a successful farmer who should definitely be interviewed, it makes me nervous. These kinds of people are often too busy to engage. The more I want it, the less likely it is to happen. So, it was with trepidation that I contacted Jaff 7, eyes squeezed tight as I anticipated the standard, polite decline …

“Sure, when do you want to come?”      What? (stammer … stutter)

Yes, the man has time for all of us and yes, he knows his stuff! We are all eternally grateful for your selfless contribution to the industry and your fellow farmers, Jaff 7.

Date 12 November 2019
Area Empangeni
Soils Mostly red recent sands – max 15% clay in parts
Rainfall Av 1000mm
Altitude Av 150m
Distance from the coast Av 10 to 15kms
Temperature range 12 – 30°C
Varieties Beaumont, A4, A16, 788, 791, 814, 816
Hectares under mac 86 hectares total (leased and own)
Other crops Bananas (40 hectares), timber (40 hectares), sugarcane (1200 hectares)

100 head of Indigenous Fat tailed sheep (aka the lawnmowers)

Jaff is a HUGE cane farmer … like 1200 hectares huge. He enjoys the crop and realises great value from it. He sees a perfect marriage in growing macs and sugarcane within the same operation.

Diversification, not replacement, is key here.

“As long as the fundamentals are right – soils, irrigation, distance from the mill, climate – there’s still money in it. You also have to do a lot of it yourself by cutting out middlemen (transport etc). And then there’s size … you have to have the volumes. This can be achieved by securing leases. Just keep your fixed costs down while building turn-over.” We went on to discuss this further and concluded that, because of the lower sugar prices lately, when any of the factors mentioned above are out, you might have to consider alternatives but, for him, he’s grateful that it’s all still working well.

Most attractive about macs is that costs are Rand-based while income Dollar-based; not so with cane, making macs an exciting commodity. Jaff still maintains that a marriage between the two crops is the secret as sugar provides an annual income, the harvest seasons syncs well making management of the overall enterprise far easier.

GETTING INTO IT

Jaff emphasises the extent of Macadamias’ appetite for capital, “It is a VERY capital-hungry crop and you need to fully appreciate the extent of that before getting involved.” Together with his wife, Jaff has helped many farmers develop business plans and cashflow forecasts. He sees over-enthusiasm and over-ambitious forecasts with regards to yields as the biggest pitfalls for new entrants into this market. Realistically, with Beaumonts, you could safely plan on half a tonne per hectare in year 5, but when it comes to better quality nuts, like 816, you could only get about 100kgs/hectare in year 5.

It can take R400K to R500K per hectare to get your trees to year 6.

Having begun in 2007, Jaff has slowly grown his mac operation, thereby cushioning and spreading the investment impact. He now has 86 hectares under mac and will continue to expand, remaining responsive to market demands.

AHHH … SOME BACKGROUND …

Jaff studied Agricultural Management at Tertiary level and then travelled abroad for a year. When he came back, he found himself in Empangeni farming bananas … his family had 2 farms but Dad was pretty confortable on the Umhlali one so Jaff had to move North. Jaff wasn’t too thrilled to be sent off where he knew no one but bravely took on the 15 hectares of bananas that would help him ‘cut his farming teeth’.

The orchard was on leased land, in a flood plain. And Jaff threw himself into the task, learning everything he could about bananas, from seed to mouth, ripening to marketing. This project had him trading informally, under a tarpaulin and in the taxi rank; he eventually progressed to an actual shop in the rank. All the bananas are still moved into the local market exclusively.

When the Empangeni farm manager retired, Jaff was promoted into his spot. 😊 They grew the operation with a few more farms, one of which was the 15 hectare small-holding they now reside on. There were 3 hectares of macs on this farm when they bought it in 2002. Jaff considered pulling them out but (thank the good Lord) he didn’t, only because he thought a farm with trees on might be more valuable than one with cane – and it was a very small area to ‘sacrifice’ if he turned out to be wrong. The owner (who had planted the macs in 2001) convinced Jaff that the projections for this crop were good. And so the journey began …

SA VS AUSTRALIA

Not only are we better rugby players, but we are also better farmers! (Now there’s a controversial statement I am not sure will survive all edits)

Macadamias are indigenous to Australia and so you would assume that their industry would outshine ours. BUT, thanks mainly to our local labour-force, we not only deliver better quality and quantity, we also realise twice the price when selling (so some credit must also go to our great marketing teams).

Jaff believes that our superior farming results are largely due to our pruning skills. This is a labour-intensive activity and not easily (or effectively) mechanised. Jaff has also investigated mac farming in other African countries, like Mozambique and Zambia. Just to console the Aussies, these countries also didn’t shape up enough to compare with what he has here. The only other place that comes close to rivalling the North Coast is the KZN South Coast where, without the hot winds that plague the northerners, is a really great place to farm macs.

2019 vs 2020

We all know that trees tend to bear well on alternate years and Jaff thinks that perhaps 2020 may not be able to compete with 2019 yields. He had forecast 80 tonnes across the farm for 2019 so was blown away when he delivered a total of 125 tonnes!! There are a number of reasons for this brilliant result – as we will investigate below – but his forecast will remain comparatively bearish for 2020.

LAND PREP & ESTABLISHMENT

Since 2007, Jaff has been planting almost every year, so he is clearly qualified to advise on the establishment of new orchards. Currently, his youngest trees are 2 years old and he still plans another 80 hectares without necessarily buying any more land. With a decent term, macs are viable on leased land and there are always retiring farmers who are happy to lease out when they settle “on the stoep”.

Jaff makes it clear that, although macs require investment, it doesn’t mean that you cannot be smart about where your money is spent. There is very little you can do about getting the trees into production earlier, especially if you take a long-term view of the operation, but, by keeping things simple, you can save unnecessary expenditure.

“There’s an expensive way to do things properly and a cost-effective way to do things properly. Don’t get confused between the two.”

To start with: ridge ONLY if necessary ie: you don’t have enough soil depth or your soil is holding too much water at its current height. Jaff’s soils are predominantly deep and sandy and he can save R5000 per hectare in land prep by omitting the unnecessary ridges. Other “capital traps” are irrigation, land prep (of the whole field) and sourcing organic matter.

Sugar farmers have lived in a short-term cash cycle environment for so long that it is a challenge to cross over into a longer-term situation like macs. A year into a sugar crop and you’re realising a return. A year into macs, all you have to count are a couple extra leaves (and a load more creditors) This can be a shock for many cane farmers but, with proper planning, the journey can be navigated.

You can’t convert cane land to mac land without thinking about it first.

  • Research which cultivar of macs will work in your environment and markets and order the seedlings from a reputable source far ahead of time (at least 3 years) so you are not pressured into buying whatever is available. Jaff is emphatic about not compromising in regard to quality seedlings.
  • Two years before planting seedlings, you need to get your windbreaks in. These need to cross your prevailing winds. Jaff uses casuarinas to screen fields from north west and southerly winds and then puts napier fodder in every third row.

As a wind break, napier fodder is better than cane because it grows quicker, gets taller and stronger and is not susceptible to Eldana. If Jaff is converting a cane field to macs, he’ll leave cane in the interrows of macs, rip the centre row of cane and plant the napier fodder in that gap. The cane will die off and provide nutrition for the napier fodder. He warns that the napier fodder can get so tall that it will block sunlight from the young trees so you should remove it after about 2 years, by which time the macs would have strengthened considerably. The same applies to timeously removing casuarina wind breaks that are compromising sunlight. It’s a trade-off between wind damage to one row or sunlight deprivation to more.

These Casuarinas may have to be removed as the first row of macs struggle in the shade.

  • Jaff also warns against massive land prep.

There is so much unnecessary land prep going on in the industry, especially when open-ended cheque books are available.

Ie: It is pointless to rip and tilth the WHOLE field when only a 1,5m row (every 8 to 10m) is required.

Once these rows have been well prepared, Jaff digs holes (same size as the seedling bag) and places the trees in, careful to preserve as much soil on the roots as possible. He does not add anything to the soil in the hole, besides water. Within the next 2 months, each tree will get 100kgs of organic matter around it base, and fertiliser towards the end of its first year. The trees will be pruned after a few months of settling down, if necessary.

TRANSPLANTING

Jaff has had extensive experience in this activity and, while he does not recommend it as a strategy ie: don’t plant at 4x5m with the intent to transplant every second row, he says that mac trees are hardier than everyone gives them credit for and, provided there is sufficient water they will recover well after a relocation.

These are 12-year-old 788s that had to be moved to accommodate the new fence.

Jaff uses a TLB to prepare the new holes and extricate the trees – he cuts each tree back, trenches around the base, then straps the tree to the TLB boom and uses the bucket to lift the root system, with soil, from the hole. It is then placed carefully in the new hole and watered. He also paints the whole tree in white PVA to minimise sun damage. Jaff even transplanted in 2016, at the height of the severe drought in this area and still had a 60% survival rate, despite the lack of water.

VARIETIES

Each variety has its quirks and preferences. Deciding what is right for your style of management, budget and markets will take wide-ranging research. Jaff suggests that every farm should start with Beaumonts as they give you faith and motivation to carry on. They are resilient in drought, come into production early and produce prolifically. Why then would you consider anything outside of these? Jaff says this question must be considered carefully. Beaumonts may have a slightly thicker shell and not produce as much as other varieties when mature but Jaff recently compared all the varieties on his farms and, at their current ages, Beaumonts are still the top performers. So, why does Jaff grow other varieties? Because he believes that, as the international mac market matures, there will be a niche demand for quality. As with everything in life, balance is what is important; plant Beaumonts to add consistency to your basket and to enable earlier returns on investments but also add quality nuts like 816 and 814. Besides market demands, there is also farm management to consider so it is important to stagger your harvest by planting some early season (814, 788, 816, 791) some mid-season (Nelmak 2, A4, A16) and some late season (Beaumont) varieties. This will alleviate pressure on your processing plant and prevent nuts lying on the ground, making them susceptible to pests, rotting and theft, for too long. This becomes particularly important when you start producing 100 tonnes and over.

Jaff’s favourite variety is currently 814 but I really had to push him to isolate his ‘favourite child’ as each one brings something valuable to the table. 816 also does very well up here but lacks a little in terms of quantity when compared to 814 (2,5t/h vs 3,5t/h). On the down-side, 814 seem to take forever to come into production, making them a study in patience. He doesn’t find them particularly fussy trees. It is important to remind you that this farm has particularly sandy soils, which may play a part in which varieties are successful here. On the upside, Jaff says that 814s are very easy to prune but, they are more susceptible (than 816s) to wind-burn in this area.

If I hadn’t snapped these pictures myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. 814s have swiftly become my favourite!

A solid 4 tonnes/hectare has gotten 791 (aka Fiji) into Jaff’s good books as well. His trees are 18 years old now. About 10 years ago, processors were reluctant to take them in because of their distinctive, endemic ‘791 spot’. Now, everyone understands that it is more of a ‘birthmark’ than any kind of defect and they are accepted.

The size and quality of the nuts is similar to Beaumont but the quantity is great.

They are also relatively hardy. As is clear from the name Fiji, they originate from Hawaii.

Jaff says that the A varieties (4 & 16) are perfect to fill that late season gap in your harvest. They delivered brilliantly this year, in terms of yield. Jaff does warn that they struggle in the wind when young and you need to be careful about that when considering where on your farm to plant them – he has selected a protected area for them. They are also a very dense tree and are quite difficult to prune. Their branches tend to be long and willowy – for some reason, I picture a ballet dancer when ‘personifying’ these trees.

And then there are the 788s. They are more prolific than 816 but not as high on the quality scale, coming in at a 41/42 % sound kernel average. The 788s share an orchard with the 816s in Jaff’s farm layout so it is quite hard for him to differentiate them conclusively (ito yield and quality) from each other.

FERTILISING & SOIL MANAGEMENT

As I sat in front of my keyboard, trying to find the keys to communicate what makes this Jaff special, I realised what his competitive advantage is. It’s not really a new characteristic but I suddenly had clarity about two groups of farmers; one group feeds the trees and the other feeds the soil. I am sure there is plenty of science that backs up both methods and it really is your personal preference. Soil-feeders are taking their nutrition back a level, to meet the trees in a more holistic and naturally sustainable environment, while tree-feeders get straight to the point, possibly overlooking conservation considerations in order to achieve commercial goals. This particular Jaff feeds the soil.

If I had to select ONE key element from this Jaff’s operation that played the largest role in his success, I would have to say soil.

Not because he inherently has great soils – it’s basically sand – but because he has boosted it with such a broad range of rich organic matter that it is practically edible! This brings a smorgasbord of valuable nutrition to the tree, enabling the tree to deliver impressive yields from a fertile base. So, what does he use?

  • Sugar mill sweepings. He collects all the ‘spillage’ and bagasse overflows from the local mill
  • Larger branches from pruning are chipped up
  • Nut husks
  • Filter press/fly ash

All these things are mulched up together and applied around the base of each tree by hand (when young) or with this specialised applicator that was engineered to specification, when the trees are older. This implement also applies the lime, when required. See video below.

Besides this organic matter, Jaff also supplements with CMS (concentrated molasses solids) from the Felixton Grower Consortium. This he applied at a rate of 6 t/h last year and the trees made their appreciation clear with the bumper crop he reaped. This product is high K making it a valuable supplement for small trees. Another vital component is silica (ash) which acts like an antibiotic for trees and is possibly a reason why Jaff does not struggle with phytophtera, of course, his sandy soils are also a factor here. The molasses in CMS fuels the microbial life in the soil and Jaff is careful to correct the acidifying effect of the molasses with lime when required.

The third component of Jaff’s four-part organic supplementation plan is spiked chicken litter compost. This is formulated by Jaff’s chosen agronomist. By the way, Jaff highly recommends choosing AN agronomist and committing to his advice.

In the mac industry, currently, there is a lot of distraction; overly complicating stuff is a real temptation.

Decide who you believe is worth collaborating with and tune out other ‘noise’. This may sound scary to you if you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) as I do. For us, tuning out anything is just not comfortable – what valuable titbits might we miss out on? But, think about the value that clarity and focus can bring to your operation if you are able to tune out all the ‘noise’ and commit to A plan … whether you’re able to or not, this successful farmer suggests you try!

Back to the spiked (necessary N) chicken litter compost … the agronomist samples Jaff’s orchards and brings his recommendation which usually has a slight difference for small trees (get a dose of K included) and larger trees. The formula is slow-release and packed with micro-nutrients.

And, the fourth part of the organic supplementation plan is the mulching of all smaller prunings in the interrows. Remember, the bigger branches went off to be chipped and incorporated with the sugarcane sweepings etc. What Jaff does in the interrows is that, immediately after pruning, he manually spreads winter oats seeds amongst the smaller prunings, then the mulcher comes along and effectively plants the oats whilst pulverising the cuttings into smaller pieces. Then, the interrows come alive with this fresh organic supplement which helps to prevent soil erosion during the winter months (there have been a few uncharacteristically heavy downpours during winter lately that would have caused some severe damage if it weren’t for the winter oats being in place). Then, when they die back, they add further organic matter to the soil.

Clockwise, from top left: Small surface roots indicating a healthy tree making use of all the micro-elements in the organic matter; organic matter stock-pile inc. nut husks; earth-worms – evidence of a fertile environment; dry winter oats; there is very little exposed soil under the mac canopies – just diverse, vital organic matter; Jaff serves up some of the spiked chicken litter compost; poking around in the soil under the macs; larger prunings ready for chipping; the sugarcane sweepings evident in the matter around the base of some trees; winter oats growing well in the interrow; each young tree gets 100kgs of organic matter spread around its base within a few months of being planted; evidence of the recent lime application. Centre: when you dig down around each tree, you cannot deny the productive difference the organic matter and natural compost has made to the health of the soil.

So, is Jaff a real greenie, focused on anything and everything ‘organic’? Not at all! He simply thought about the origins of the mac tree and found that replicating that environment (in the soil) produces the results he is after. Mac trees, indigenous to Australia, thrived in the natural forests, below the canopy, in a thick bed of fallen leaves and compost. If we compare this to the soil we want them to produce in (sterile cane-land that has been monocropped for 100 years) the challenge is clear.

He also uses some chemical fertilisers but has found that he doesn’t need more than about 30% chemical because the organic stuff delivers most of what is required. Organic matter on the soil surface also causes the tree’s roots to grow up, thereby lifting them out of any puddles or stagnant subsurface water and minimising phytophtera or other root issues that macadamias seem to be challenged by.

The higher the roots are, the healthier they’ll be.

Jaff has about 4 hectares that are in high clay content and the trees in this soil have struggled. Macs don’t like heavy soils. Since he’s been pumping the organic matter into this area, the plantation has changed completely and is now much healthier. Jaff cautions that high clay content is very different from high organic content. High clay soils can damage fine roots so extra organic matter corrects that, making it easier for the roots to travel.

In the first year of a tree’s life on this farm, the only fertiliser it receives is organic in nature. This means it is naturally slow-release which is better for youngsters. After that, he’ll assess requirements and possibly come in with a 9:1:5 or something similar, depending on what the tree has taken from the soil.

Jaff is not big on foliar feeds but he does take advantage of the sprayers when they go in to apply a pesticide and will include a foliar feed in the mix. He believes that fertilising does not need to be the complicated science we have turned it in to. It really is simple if you focus on what the tree needs in the soil. His programme starts immediately after harvest when he applies a load of organic matter, followed by the chicken litter. Older trees get 3 servings annually and younger trees, six.

HERBICIDES

Not a big topic on this farm. Jaff believes in ensuring that other vegetation does not compete with the mac trees but he is not interested in having a sterile environment, devoid of any other life. For the most part, he leaves the orchards to grow naturally, hosting as much natural insects and life as possible, spraying only when the ‘natural’ starts to impact the outcome.

Here is clear evidence of all the rich organic matter Jaff has placed on the soil as well as a little lime. As you can see, he purposely avoids keeping a clinically clean environment under the trees but nothing is competing with the tree either. Instead there is a fertile, healthy balance. And if you look very carefully, you can see this young 816 showing his appreciation with the rather large nuts he has hanging in the crotch of his branches.  

PEST MANAGEMENT

There are a couple of standout points to share from our discussion on pests:

  • For Early Stinkbugs, Jaff uses a drench. When the nuts are pea-size, he uses a 2-litre jug to apply the drench around the root zone, and then turns on the irrigation. This chemical is absorbed up through the roots and remains active in the plant for two months. Any stink bugs (or thrips) that ingest any part of the plant, die. By the time the nuts are ready for human consumption, none of the chemical remains. Jaff says that if you only use this product, ie: no other pesticides, you will be assured of a minimum 35% crack out. All other spraying or precautions you take will then get you beyond 35%. Jaff advises new farmers who are trying to watch costs in those first 5 years to avoid investing in a sprayer but rather just use the drench instead. The sprayer can come when production is in full swing.
  • Currently, thrips are a challenge but the drench helps with that as well. Jaff shows me how to check for activity; he knocks leaves that are showing signs of thrips damage onto his cellphone screen. If any of the critters are home, you’ll be able to see them scurrying across the dark, shiny surface.

  • Jaff does not scout at all. He follows the programme set by his pesticide advisor whether there is evidence of infestation or not. He does stay in close contact with his neighbours to ascertain what their scouting yields.
  • Being so close to the coast, I was interested in whether Jaff faces any Eldana issues in the sugarcane … he explains that he used to have a dire problem but since he started using Coragen (a single annual application only), he has practically eradicated the problem.
  • Jaff explains that he has had a few near catastrophes with insect infestations in the past and has learnt that accurate equipment calibration, correct mixing of doses and precise timing are the secrets in keeping clear of entomological disasters.
  • False Coddling Moths are not a challenge on this farm.

IRRIGATION

So this was an interesting conversation … Jaff was clearly saying that macs cope perfectly well unirrigated especially when you are in a 1000mm or above rainfall area, in fact, his dryland orchards gave him 4t/h last year. And yet he was planning irrigation for all his new orchards. The two messages weren’t adding up … when I pressed for clarity, he admitted that the 2015/16 drought had made him cautious. I think we under-rate the intensity of that experience on our farmers – especially these Northern ones. It was a brutal and unforgiving period that has changed strategies forever. So, he knows that, bar any devastating weather phenomena, macs would thrive in a dryland environment with rainfall of 1000mm annually, but he choses to take no chances and installs irrigation. He says it also really helps get the trees going in that first 5 year period.

Incredibly healthy Dry-land orchards

Jaff does, however, save about R5000/hectare in the first 2 years by doing something I have never heard of before – he puts half the system in! Yup, he installs the mainlines and laterals with a few hydromatic valves and stops there, saving money of the smaller black pipes and the microjets. He then uses four 100m hosepipes to deliver water (manually) to each tree. Not only does he save the R5000/hectare on irrigation equipment, he also saves on compaction and fuel the tractor would use travelling up and down with a water cart. After about 2 years, he then installs the rest of the system.

All irrigation systems are monitored by probes.

Having just interviewed Jaffd (http://www.tropicalbytes.co.za/2019_18_jaff-_6/) I was interested whether Jaff has ever manipulated water and fertiliser streams (to the point of stressing the tree) to maximise nut production. And he has! Also with great success … last year, after harvest and pruning (around May/June), he put down 6t/h of CMS (basically 60N, 300K and a bit of P) and thereafter, he withheld everything for the duration of winter, coming back in Spring with fertiliser and water. Perhaps this was why he surpassed his yield estimates by 50%?

We also discussed fertigation … Jaff is not convinced that it is the right thing for his operation. He prefers to avoid such complication, opting instead for the flexibility of applying fertiliser independent of water, especially when rainfall is so abundant and you want to be able to apply nutrients without additional water.

Jaff believes that, as an industry, we are prone to over-irrigating, to the detriment of yield.

Besides inflexibility, you are also faced with additional pump and dosing challenges … overall, more headaches than he needs.

HARVESTING & PROCESSING

Jaff doesn’t use any ethapon to loosen nuts on his farms. Just a long, thin gum-pole. 18 people harvested all 125 tonnes this year, starting in Feb and finishing in June. They work on a flat rate and had a minimum task of 8 crates per day (knocking off the trees and loading up the crates). The only others involved in the harvest process was an Induna and another gentleman to help tip the crates into the waiting trailer.

Jaff’s advice in harvesting – Don’t leave the nuts on the ground too long. All that happens is deterioration, insect activity and theft. He prefers to get the nuts into the processing plant asap. Here, he dehusks and sorts, using a water bath to help remove any rotten ones that may have snuck in from previous seasons. He does not re-sort (after drying) like some farmers prefer to, but is still in the top 3, quality-wise, in his area.

The day I visited, there were quite a few green nuts on the ground. I learnt that this is a natural phenomenon known as November dump wherein the tree checks its energy levels and if it doesn’t have enough to carry the nut load it has, it will dump some of the nuts, thereby recalibrating capacity to get the balance to maturity successfully. Jaff thinks citrus does the same thing. It can be regulated with fertilisers, to a certain extent, but it is a natural thing and will happen regardless.

PRUNING & MANIPULATION

You spend all year encouraging and celebrating the growth of your trees. Cheers and proud smiles for the vibrant flushes and healthy height. Then, immediately after harvest, you whip out the chainsaw!? Jaff shared that even he has had to get over the resistance to prune properly, as it really does go against the grain, but he explains that it is essential, “Get into your orchards as soon after harvests as possible. I use teams of four; one chainsaw operator, one to pull the detached branches from the tree, one to take the larger branches away to where they’ll be chipped and another to gather the smaller branches in the interrows for mulching. I prefer to keep height below 6m and ensure that sunlight is given proper access.” He prefers to leave his skirts to hang quite low as that helps to retain moisture for the roots, in all the organic matter he has provided each tree with.

If you struggle to prune effectively, it may help to hear this wise comment that Jaff made whilst we were walking his orchards, “Remember that you are farming nuts, not trees.” If everyone was able to keep this in mind, they’d be less likely to under-prune.

When it comes to young trees, I saw some wonderfully successful manipulation using sisal rope; Jaff says that the methods he has used in the past are not popular now but I fail to fully understand why … so, I’ll just show you the results and you can decide for yourselves: Jaff used sisal rope on these trees, as shown in the sketch alongside the photos, to pull down the side branches. As the sisal ages and rots, it breaks but, by then the tree has a beautiful set shape. Perhaps Jaff’s hesitance is because, in the 2015/6 drought, there was no rain to help decompose the sisal rope and it didn’t disintegrate as planned. As a result, he lost a few trees to strangulation.

The practice that some consultants are promoting now is towards a natural opening of the tree, rather than a mechanical operation. They encourage a single central leader (or two at most) and then leave some weight (branches) on the ends of the side branches so that gravity pulls them down. Being a far gentler approach, it is not as effective, in my assessment, but I am no expert. Whilst I was still focused on sugar farmers, back in 2018, I visited an excellent farmer in Komati who had just started with macs. He was also using mechanical means to open the trees but used wire and metal stakes into the ground around the tree. Whilst effective, it looked like a lot of hard work. This sisal rope method, onto the tree trunk, is the simplest and most effective I have seen and, when you think about the 50+ years you’ll be living off the tree, a little bit of work in the early years is certainly worth it. Not to mention the ease of pruning a tree that has been effectively shaped.

Pruning is a labour-intensive exercise and Jaff sees it as one of the major reasons why South Africa outperforms the Australians. The importance of the process cannot be over-emphasised. Because of their lack of affordable labour, they mechanise a lot of this operation and it is simply not done as well as we are doing it here.

GENERAL

For those of you who have fenced orchards, consider this as an option for lawn-mowing:

Jaff has a herd of 100 indigenous / Nguni / fat-tailed sheep. They manage to keep about 30 hectares of grass down. They breed well, have very few demands (vet bills), require no supplementary feeding, and are tasty for that odd ‘sheep on the spit’ occasion. “Seriously,” adds Jaff, “they cost nothing besides one herdsman. They don’t compact the orchards like a tractor would, they don’t use diesel, they don’t break down, they don’t damage the trees or take Mondays off.” In fact, he’s planning to get a few more in when he has finished fencing in the new orchards. Oh – and there’s a value-add; they are a potential income stream when your herd grows. Personally, I can’t see a downside!

Jaff – thank you so much to you and your beautiful wife, for allowing me the time and access to your business. You are a legend in the industry and it was a privilege to learn from you. Thanks, from all the farmers I can already hear saying, “Ah yes, I can try that”.

God Bless everyone at this magical time of the year. May you all travel safely and come back to 2020 refreshed and invigorated to move to the next level in this exciting industry. Your suggestions for TropicalBytes are always welcome – tell me what’s working, and what’s not, and especially let me know if there’s something specific you’d like me to investigate. debbie@sugarbytes.co.za