The more regular readers, who have been with this platform since the SugarBytes days, might remember that I was fortunate enough to spend a significant part of my childhood at boarding school in the KZN Midlands – Wartburg, to be exact, just around the corner from Harburg where we are today. Before I interviewed some amazing sugar farmers here in 2019 (http://www.tropicalbytes.co.za/2019_3_eggers/) I thought that this area had ALWAYS been under sugarcane but it was only in the late 1950s that a few brave pioneers introduced cane to the area. Since then timber has gradually given way to the rolling green sugar cane that now dominates the landscape.

Then, just over a decade back, Jaff’s Dad started seeing red flags in the sugar industry; one year, they even opened the season R500 000 in the red! Being a price-taker (SA Sugar farmers have no control over the price of sugar) is fine when the price is good but, when it starts to plummet, the lack of control is crippling. Jaff’s family had already supplemented the operation with a commercial workshop producing top quality trailers and other mechanisation services but they wanted to add to the diversity. What else could grow in these cool, wet hills?

Twenty plus years ago there had been macadamias on this farm – Jaff’s great grandfather had been here since 1942. “There was a small block of macs – about 2 hectares – but there was no way to sell the nuts in those days so they would fall, attract rats and … well, they were chopped down in favour of more cane,” Jaff holds his head in his hands as he relays this tragedy.  Anyway, at least they knew that macs did produce here and, when the family started to consider diversification, macadamias were an obvious choice.

FARM CONTEXT
Date of visit 19 May 2021
Area Harburg, KZN Midlands
Soils Sandy | Glen Rosa to Inanda | Hutton
Rainfall Long term average is  750 – 850mm. Spring and summer time.
Altitude 900 – 1000m
Distance from the coast Approx 60kms
Temperature range Av Low: 10°C       Av. High: 30°C
Humidity 50 to 75%
Varieties A4, 816, A16, 814, Beaumont, Nelmak 2
Hectares under mac 60 ha
Other crops 350 ha cane, 70 ha timber, 7ha Avo

The timing worked perfectly; Jaff had just returned home from almost 4 years in Europe and was ready to start something fresh and different. His 3,5-year Automotive Mechatronics course at John Deere in Germany had equipped him with all the mechanical and electronic knowledge necessary to get more involved in the family operation. Jaff’s younger brother went through the same “apprenticeship” and, after an additional 5 years + at John Deere, in various departments, is also ready to come back home and invest himself in the farm.

So Jaff got back to South Africa in 2011, eager to get going with their next crop. He couldn’t even wait to finish a well-deserved “welcome home holiday” and ended up phoning the mac nursery from the top of Table Mountain, “Let’s get going with the root stock so long, then we’ll figure out which cultivars have the best chance of success,” ordered Jaff.

Despite the bold move, Jaff was still cautious and decided to use the fallow land under the power lines for the first plantings. After much research and deliberation he chose 816 and A4 as the first varieties and planted 5 hectares of each in 2014. The A4s went into the best soils and the 816s into the sandier Glen Rosas. Since then Jaff has had a standing nursery order of 10ha every year and they’ve added Nelmak 2, A16, Beaumonts and 814 to the mix. Macs now occupy 60 hectares on two farms under Jaff’s management.

It’s been 7 long years but the 816s are finally coming to the party; in year 6 they harvested 300kgs off 5ha and, last season, this increased to 3 tonnes. The A4s have done well since year 4 (1ton per ha on 7-year-old A4, having had no irrigation for the first 3 years)

The fallow land under the powerlines were a great place to “test drive” the macs.

IS THIS AREA VIABLE FOR COMMERCIAL MACS?

Although Harburg falls within subtropical boundaries on most maps, the altitude is a bit high and the temperature a bit cool to take it for granted that macs would be commercially viable. Although many said that sugar cane wouldn’t be either … granted, cane has been grown on a 2-year cycle whereas most other regions harvest every 12 months … so what adjustments would be necessary with macadamias? Jaff knew that there were so many unknowns but he was inspired by the fact that macs had grown here before; if it wasn’t for the lack of a sales outlet, they may still be here. Now that the numerous processors have filled that gap, Jaff’s family was ready to give it another go.

What about the frost?

Well, there’s white frost and there’s black frost. “White frost is fine,” says Jaff, “it’s nothing more than frozen dew and, in our experience, it does not harm the macs. It’s the black frost that kills.” Black frost is a dry, sub-zero wind that actually freezes the plant; it doesn’t always leave a white blanket, just dead plants. In the 7 years Jaff has had macs he has lost about 500 trees to black frost. “That’s a 2,7% loss if you factor it over 60 hectares,” says Jaff, “I can live with those losses, especially when you consider that this is one huge experiment – everything we do is new and failings always bring knowledge and allow for innovation – it’s called school fees!” In true entrepreneurial spirit, Jaff says that the mac trees that succumbed to frost might be replaced by pecans but, in all fairness, the macs really had the odds stacked against them; they were only 1 year old when the frost hit and had absolutely no protection. Jaff is sure they would have survived if he had blanketed or even just sprayed them with one of the products available for this purpose.

The young macs, closest to the water, were hit hardest by the frost

Interestingly, the Beaumonts were the weakest; the same frost also blew through Nelmak 2 and both the A varieties (A4 & A16), with far fewer losses. A16s have been the most frost-tolerant. “We’ve also seen that the window for frost susceptibility is quite narrow,” said Jaff, “when the trees get past 2-years, their survival rate increases considerably.”

Jaff helps me understand how to identify whether a black or white frost has been through, “Black frost is a cold wind, usually from the north. You can see it in the colour of the sugar cane leaves – they turn olive. With a white frost, the leaves turn brown, if they change colour at all.”

What about wind?

Jaff clarifies that the northerly winds are by far the biggest challenge of farming macs on this farm – once they learn how to counter the impact of this, they will have overcome a lot.

This northerly wind, that brings the black frost, also brings high temperatures. It was usually in August but the last few years it’s been September / October that hot, dry berg winds have damaged the mac flowers. Jaff will be planting 2 rows of Beaumont this season, to serve as both wind buffers and cross pollinators. The east, west and south-facing slopes seem to be doing perfectly.

Besides the temperature issues, wind here tends to be gusty, resulting in broken trees. Jaff uses stainless steel plates and a thread bar to brace weaker points, when he spots them, and this has saved the trees concerned.

The strong and adjustable brace that has saved a number of A4 trees

And hail?

Jaff explains that the hail seldom falls across a vast area; it is generally isolated and therefore damage is minimal.

So what has Jaff learnt regarding cultivar selection for this area?

Jaff has paid your school fees in this regard and selflessly advises any new farmers to the area. If he could go back, he would have planted his first 10 hectares with 10 different varieties, in 1-hectare blocks. For now though, he can share what he knows about the 5 cultivars he does have:

A4 – This has done very well and proven its tolerance of higher altitudes. Jaff’s only concern is that he can’t get it to stop flowering – it has been flowering 3 to 4 times per year. Experts have suggested he remove the late season flowers but there are just too many. Now he is harvesting in time to get the delivery in to the processors and then harvesting again, later, and storing these until the processors open in the new season.  Typically, A4s are breaking in the high winds but it’s not enough of an issue to exclude them.

Flower-happy A4

816 – this has also started to perform well, despite the excruciatingly long 7-year wait. What he has sent to the processor has been excellent kernel recovery and quality with a good percentage of wholes (and a strangely high number of twins). The wind does not affect it as much as it does A4. On the down-side, it requires a lot of management to counter the natural tendency to grow vertically with too few lateral, bearing branches.

The upright 816s have been harvested and are now ready for a prune to encourage more lateral growth

The A16, Nelmak 2, 814 and Beaumont orchards are all pre-production and therefore difficult to assess but there is a lot of promise showing in all of these. The Beaumonts, notorious for their multiple flowering in many other areas, are not displaying that characteristic here.

These A16s are 3 years old. They’ve been planted in an old quarry (really poor soils) and are doing better than expected

An 814 terraced orchard

Beaumonts on the right, A4 on the left.

Jaff has been warned against 788 because of its poor track record at lower temperatures – he’s decided not to test the advice.

ORCHARD ESTABLISHMENT

First stop – a nursery

Jaff has gotten a lot right in selecting nurseries but has also made a few mistakes that we can learn from. He’s chosen nurseries based on location (preferring local suppliers in similar conditions so that the trees are acclimatised from the beginning) and on the advice of processor technical advisors. Even though most years were fine, one delivery wasn’t and Jaff got a batch of trees that looked healthy when they arrived but died soon after being planted. In retrospect, he says he could have prevented this by acting on his gut feeling, “I had an inkling that the nurseryman was not focused in the couple years leading up to the delivery – I should have gotten more involved and at least visited the nursery while the trees were there.”

Jaff’s used mostly grafted seedlings but he also has a few Beaumonts that started off as rooted cuttings. He hasn’t noticed a difference in production between the two.

Land prep

0 soil acidity has always been Jaff’s goal in the cane lands and he extends this into the macadamias by ploughing lime and gypsum deep into the fields during land prep. They then disk all the clods out and ridge using a plough or excavator. Some of the areas on this farm are rocky and/or water-logged so he made it a standard policy to build ridges in all the macadamia fields except those on slopes, where terracing has been done. The ridges are generally 2m wide by about half a metre high. He then scatters erogrostis or orchard mix grass seeds, puts the irrigation in and plants straight away.

Planting

Spacing: Initially Jaff was planting at 9m x 5m and attempted to customise each orchard to the cultivar in it but he soon changed that plan, for sanity’s sake, and now plants a standard 8m x 4m across the board. He thinks that, perhaps the upright growing 816s could be planted at 8m x 3,5m but you would need to increase management of this denser spacing. Obviously, the terraces are challenging to standardise row width so he’s flexible there.

Direction: Jaff’s first orchards were under the power lines, in land that had been unproductive for years. New and enthusiastic, he planted North-South as was advised but soon realised that this was a mistake! If he had planted in rows that ran with the power lines, he would have had nice long tractor runs of 1,5kms. Instead the tractor now has to make a turn every 200m. Jaff is quite sure the cost of this is not justified by any additional crop. He advises that only if you have no practical considerations (slopes, narrow orchards etc) and can plant efficiently, in any direction, should you choose to implement the north-south option.

Under these power-lines, you can see the short rows – planted north-south

Watering the new trees: Every block is irrigated for 2 hours, before the trees are planted and then again, straight afterwards. Thereafter they get 2 hours once a week (80 litres per hour) – Jaff has found this really helps to get the trees going.

ONGOING MANANGEMENT

Having grown up in this German community, I know how challenged Jaff is by the temptation to manicure the orchards. Academically, he appreciates the value of the rambling vegetation but it’s so hard to look at! He’s compromised by leaving the orchards to develop the micro-ecological systems out of season and enjoys taming it when the harvest approaches.

This pic shows positioning of the micro-sprinkler – Jaff moves it away from the tree as it matures. Here the thirsty ngwenya grass has been killed in favour of plants that flower and are more beneficial to the mac trees

Cross pollination

This is something Jaff is not 100% convinced has a substantial impact on yield although he agrees that it is definitely a factor, “I would advise to plan orchards as smaller (single cultivar) blocks with good cross pollinators side by side. Jaff has planted pure blocks but the adjoining blocks don’t always flower simultaneously – he is supplementing cross pollination by filling gaps in the A4 orchards with A16s and Beaumont. He also places hives strategically to get maximum bee traffic between cultivars e.g.: he puts hives in the small A16 orchard so that they have to travel to the A4 orchard for enough food.

Bees are something he is spending time on as they have never been a focus on this farm before. Most farms in this area are sugar cane and, while the bees do use the cut cane as a source of sustenance, there are not a lot of flowers around. So he is engaging with a bee keeper to manage and increase resident bees on this farm by planting suitable vegetation, which is then cut down when the macs are flowering. The ultimate goal is to have 4 hives per hectare.

Nurturing a permanent bee population is imperative in this area that has not had a need for insect pollination for decades

Pruning

Jaff winces when I bring up this topic, “Now here I’ve made some epic mistakes,” he sighs, “in the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing and I managed to remove all the bearing wood from my A4s.” He explains that the aim was to “open the trees up” but he ended up going too far and setting himself back a few years. For anyone who wants advice here, his warning is to go carefully – don’t cut too much out, especially the young wood; rather take out one big branch per year and encourage lateral growth from that.

He’s also tried manipulation on the 816s by weighing branches down with rocks. When he eventually removed a weight to check, the branch stayed put, so he removed all the weights and … two days later all the branches had sprung back to their original positions – he shakes his head in frustration at that pointless exercise. Jaff has accepted that 816 will always fight to grow upright; his current strategy is to cut back a long branch and, when it reshoots, he removes all the vertical growth and leaves the horizontal growth. It’s a slow process but it’s the best method he’s found so far.

Jaff explains that, for him, the training starts in the nursery. He believes a young tree has to be cut back early to stimulate horizontal growth. “When it is cut back, it will sulk for at least a month or two but it’s better for it to sulk in the nursery, where growth is generally better, than out in the field,” advises Jaff, “once this side branching is initiated, you can leave it alone for the next 4 years.”

Pruning is a major focus area on this farm as Jaff believes that, done correctly, it can have a positive impact on yield. Similarly, poor pruning can spell disaster.

It’s been interesting to hear what mac farmers feel about removing the flowers in young orchards. Jaff did this in the first 2 years so that all energy was diverted in to growth but he’s not sure whether it made a difference.

Eskom has stipulated a height limit of 6m under the powerlines so Jaff stays safe by keeping all the trees under 5m across the farm, for uniformity.

Jaff is happy with how this 816 is developing

Labour

I found Jaff’s strategy of giving group tasks very interesting; he does this so that a team is responsible for delivering on a task – the result is that policing moves from him to them; if someone is not pulling their weight, they are worked out by the group. Sounds a lot easier than the alternative!

Jaff is using cane cutters to harvest nuts while the local sugar mill is down for repairs (again). The labour is all very grateful for the vision Jaff has had to diversify and for allowing them to fill any gaps – besides that, picking nuts is a million times easier than cutting cane!!

IRRIGATION

There are a total of 60 hectares in the ground now; 47 of which are irrigated. A further 12 are on a different farm, and Jaff has chosen to keep these dry land for now. They are 4 years old and about half the size of their irrigated siblings but the running cost is almost nothing – all they get is fertiliser and a moment of pruning attention every now ‘n again. The costs will ramp up when they start producing as this farm will be subject to theft and require fencing.

A big advantage of dryland farming is the lack of phytophthora; these trees are far healthier than the irrigated ones that are constantly being infected by the irrigation water. They also don’t seem to get thrips or any other insect damage; hence there is no spraying on this farm at all. There are good soils and nice coastal weather; Umhlanga is visible from the orchards.

The rainfall on the main farm averages between 750 and 850mm annually. The second farm (where the dryland macs are planted) fares much better with an annual average of 1200mm. Rain typically falls in Spring and Summer.

Advice for those getting in to macs

  1. Spend cautiously

When Jaff first started out, all the trees were hand-watered for the first 3 years; once a week, or every second week, depending on rainfall – no specific amount; they just filled the basin created at the base of the tree. Jaff feels that this was a very good solution for where they found themselves and warns that farmers, getting in to macs, should pace themselves financially (like he did by delaying irrigation) as the establishment costs can be crippling and cash flow is one-way traffic. Now that he’s more established, he installs irrigation immediately after land prep, before the trees are planted.

  1. Choose wisely

After carefully weighing up all the pros and cons, Jaff has opted for micro-sprinklers. For Jaff, the biggest cons about drip irrigation are:

  • This area is subject to irregular power supply. Drip irrigation supplies water in small amounts over a long time; thereby creating a “just in time” supply situation. If the power goes down for extended periods, the trees might stress more than tolerable.
  • The fact that drip dampens a very small area concerns Jaff as he prefers to manage the orchard as a whole and encourage the mac roots to extend.

With micros it’s easy to see if there are any faults which means they can be addressed quickly. The strong supply of water on this farm means that they have not had to factor in water scarcity when deciding which way to go.

Jaff shows how far this micro-sprinkler irrigates, as opposed to the very localised effect of a drip system

  1. Consider doing things yourself

On this farm, they have installed most of the irrigation themselves, based on a professional design. The intimate knowledge of the system, harnessed by doing the work yourself, is invaluable when it comes to managing and maintaining the system going forward. There are also no surprises which can sometimes be the unfortunate experience when someone else does the job and has taken shortcuts or compromises.

  1. Use Variable Speed Drives (VSD) on the pumps

This technical discussion took all my focus but I finally understood that VSDs allow for efficiencies and cost savings by reducing the size transformer required, regulating the pump’s rpm and minimising stress on the system. And then I recalled that this valuable advice has also been shared by another farmer who has expert knowledge of pump systems. Both farmers acknowledged the high cost of VSDs but insisted that, in the long-run, they save money, especially in electricity use.

The expensive variable speed drives that save in the long run

Jaff has progressed from no irrigation to a diesel-powered system and finally (after financing the 2kms of powerlines required) an electric set up. Next step is to increase the probes from one per block and, possibly, add fertigation from the pump-house.

Moisture probe

NUTRITION

Jaff waited 3 months after planting his new trees before doing any fertilising. He then continued with the slow-release products the nursery had used – this helped him avoid burning the new trees and saved him labour costs. Once he installed irrigation he settled into an annual programme that starts with orchard inspections and soil samples. The learnings from here are taken into review with the nutrition specialists and together they come up with a plan. Jaff says his role is basically to draw the line, based on budget, because there is always so much more you can do – the challenge is deciding how much is optimal for where you are at the time.

He uses the irrigation system to apply the fertiliser but plugs in field-specific recipes at the orchard, via a ‘varkie’. As he develops the farm, he may move to a fully automated fertigation system whereby the fertiliser is added at the pump house but didn’t sound excited at the prospect of all that additional digging and piping this installation would require – “the varkie works just fine,” were his final words on this.

This is the “varkie” that plugs in in-field to administer (mostly granular) fertilisers, specific to each orchard

This motorised knapsack is used to add the liquid root health programme additives. These are usually small amounts.

Macs are so different to cane when it comes to feeding …

Mac trees need things that sugar didn’t: they are ferocious feeders when it comes to micro-nutrients – boron, calcium, magnesium, zinc. If you get your fertiliser programme wrong and give them too much phosphorous, the potassium inhibits use of the other stuff. Balance is crucial. This is very different from cane farming where high phosphorous is common. “I’m learning every day when it comes to feeding macs,” admits Jaff, “the whole question of foliar vs soil-based is also new. Most of the time I just have to trust the professionals to use my budget wisely. This year has been a sound crop so I’ll have a little more to invest in the programme next season.” But Jaff cautions that farmers should watch that budget closely; there will ALWAYS be something more you can add to the programme so do the best with what you have and learn to draw a line!

Jaff also focuses on supplementing the soil by mulching and composting. The compost is a mixture of pine chips, cane tops, sugar mill waste (filter press), chicken litter, lime and gypsum. Sometimes he’ll even just broadcast the filter press alone if he has enough.

Broadcasting filter press from local sugar mill

“Chicken litter is something mac farmers must use cautiously,” warns Jaff, “besides being ‘hot’ (will burn the trees) it is also high in phosphorous – I add it to the other organic matter just to kick-start the composting process.” Jaff is happy to report that his intensive mulching programme is definitely yielding positive results; the mac roots are extending up into this layer and the soil life is thriving.

Mulch restores soil life

PESTS

Another new field for Jaff; he’s gradually learning and formulating a strategy that suits his farm and long-term goals. As the orchards mature and pests become more of an issue, he’s realising that the key to his approach is around balance and compromise. Just this season Jaff was hammered by Macadamia Nut Borer and grumbled to his processor that he should have sprayed. The processor calculated the value of the damaged nuts and compared that to the cost of diesel and sprays that “should have” happened – as well as the impact on beneficial insects and other insects that would have come in to the gap and helped Jaff understand that the damage was acceptable. This exercise has influenced Jaff’s strategy going forward and he is very cautious about spraying anything. When insect pressure increases, he will do active scouting (for next year he will focus on MNB through traps) and spray only when the count becomes too high. Jaff also knows that, often, the imbalance (too many harmful insects) sorts itself out if you leave it alone – provided you have a healthy ecosystem.

Jaff has been shocked by the appearance of so many more birds since he started with macs. He now plants one of these poles every hectare or so, to give the larger birds of prey a perch

Jaff has had to spray for thrips, but has used a gentle chemical. So far, the stinkbug pressure hasn’t warranted spraying (the benefits of being one of the first mac farmers in an area) so, for now, they’re just keeping a watch on the numbers.

Evidence of Jaff’s softer approach to pest control is evidenced by the prolific and varied insect life in the mac orchards

More trouble from fungus and bacteria

Phytophthora needs to be managed constantly. Jaff suggests that, for this reason alone, farmers plant on ridges. He has begun a two-step programme that involves using a product that kills off all bacteria in the soil. A week later they come through with a beneficial microbial supplement to regenerate the soil life. This is done annually and results really only started manifesting in the second year. Jaff is very conscious that the ‘killing’ phase is not ideal and would like to get to a point where the soil is healthy enough that it can eradicate the harmful bacteria itself.

A little research on phytophthora

Phytophthora is a pathogen (and agent that brings disease to its host). The word Phytophthora means “plant destroyer”. It was the reason for the great potato famine of the 1840s that resulted in the death of 1 million people and caused another 1 million to flee Ireland. Since then many more strains have been discovered, infecting more and more plant species.

Bottom line is that it’s been around for a long time and is a very real risk to the macadamia crop. Certain cultivars are more susceptible to infection and certain soil conditions encourage its survival. As a water-borne agent, it thrives in unhealthy (lack of soil microbes), water-logged soils.

Beating Blight

The Midlands are prone to misty conditions, perfect for fungi, so Jaff sprays preventatively for Blossom Blight, on all cultivars. He administers one spray (or two if it is a wet season) in Sept/Oct, just before flowers start opening up.

Mammalian pests are the worst

While Jaff’s trees are young and macs quite new to the area, the four-legged creatures are more of a problem than the six-legged ones. Common duiker being the biggest pest currently and has forced Jaff to fence every small tree to prevent them being devoured; a very expensive and time-consuming exercise. Bush buck damage the trees in another way; they mark their territory and, in the enthusiasm, break the young trees. Jaff had two competing rams at one stage and the constant rivalry and tireless efforts to mark on Jaff’s trees forced him into removing one of the rams. Thankfully that brought calm to the situation and the damage has stopped.

Duiker and porcupines also contribute to damage on this farm, with the porcupines guilty of chewing through irrigation piping, “The dam can be 20m away and the lazy rodents will still chew through a pipe,” laments Jaff.

Netting to protect baby trees against duiker

Thankfully the monkeys and bushpigs have not (yet) realised the nutritional opportunities hanging on the trees.

One insect that did give Jaff a fright was the snoutbeetle – small grey insect (pictured below) that was ring-barking the stem of new flush on young trees. Jaff managed to control them quickly with a harsh chemical that he regrets having to use.  Thankfully it only took 2 sprays and the problem disappeared.

Snoutbeetle

Most spraying on this farm is micro-nutrients and Jaff uses modified MD tracs.

MD Tracs are very old Mercedes tractors that are no longer produced – the are now collectors’ items. This one takes a 3-tonne load. Now that the orchards are maturing, the tractors are becoming a little too big. This one is a 1987 model.

HARVESTING & PROCESSING

Jaff is cresting the curve; the long slog through unproductive years is almost over. Jaff’s last three seasons have been 800kgs, 4 tonnes and, last year, he hit 13 tonnes! But, productive years bring their own set of challenges. Last season that was in the form of an exceptionally high November dump and lower crack outs. Jaff was relieved to hear that these issues were not unique to his farm – both were apparently a result of the particularly cold snap in winter 2021.

Although Jaff’s crack outs were down, he did get a higher quality; a lot more wholes, and he was therefore able to net a good result. Jaff explains that mac farmers in the Midlands won’t (ordinarily) be able to compete with the coastal farmers on quality but, because of their better soils, they will probably be able to pull ahead in quantity.

Jaff is in the process of establishing a dehusking and drying plant on the farm. It will have a 4-lane dehusker, water bath and large sorting tables. It will be supported by a few of the other local farmers who are not ready to invest in their own processing units just yet.

Site of the new processing plant. Avos will be planted in the field in the foreground where the soils are of the best Jaff has to work with

At harvest time, Jaff strips all the trees manually. His method for knowing when to start picking is quite simple; when a block looks ready (a few nuts start falling) he picks and dehusks 50 nuts per block, roasts them (warm the oven to 60°C, then turn it off and leave the nuts in there through the night – have patience and don’t be tempted to heat the nuts too high otherwise the shells will crack). In the morning, extract the kernels from the shells and do a float test; mix 15g salt in 1 litre water and pop the nuts in there. If more than 96% float then it’s time to open the harvest! Generally the 816s are ready first, then the A4s and, finally, the Beaumonts.

Harvesters stripping A4 orchards

Currently Jaff is drying with ambient air after removing smalls, nut borer and stink bug damage, immatures and other defects. The new plant will use heat from the factory ceiling. The drying system will be automated with the fans triggered by probes.

It’s a good harvest!

FUTURE

As I type this, Russia is attacking Ukraine so anything I try to capture under the heading of “Future” seems … pointless? Because who knows!

Future-proofing is highly idealistic but has to be a part of our plan. Jaff’s strategy is diversification, with a focus on community investment. He may have been the first farmer in the area to plant macs but he says that, unless the sugar industry continues in its current state, he will also be the last to leave sugar. He is adding avos to the mix this year. The objective is to increase revenue per hectare and support local communities all year long – he believes successful farming in South Africa hinges on these two elements.

The future is bright!

Macs have awakened subtropical farming with the possibility of earning a viable income without owning extensive land. Success in sugar cane farming has become hinged on the potential to expand – the breakeven has lifted and, if you can’t grow in hectares, your feasibility is threatened. Macadamias liberate farmers from this need for huge farms and, if the political aspirations of certain parties manifest, SA farmers will have to learn to make a living off less land. Jaff’s diversification into avos is motivated by the same logic.

Besides the logical incentives, Jaff is thoroughly enjoying the challenge of a new crop and the contest of figuring out how to manage it in a slightly different climate. In all spheres of life, we grow when we learn; we learn when we fail. Jaff is enjoying this process. Although he quickly downplays his expertise and honours the farmers who have taught him – the ones who manage to grow anything, anywhere – in his words, “The farmers who could plant a chicken and chickens grow, regardless of how poor their soils are – those are the ones I like to learn from rather than the successful farmers who have perfect soils!”

And that’s a great note to end off. A sincere, heartfelt thanks to yet another incredible Jaff who is humble in his achievements, grateful for his blessings and destined for success. God Bless.