Grapes are a highly sensitive fruit that spoils easily. To improve the quality and shelf life of its table grapes and become more sustainable in its operations, the Fruit Farm Group South Africa joined forces with Bayer in a Food Chain Partnership project – with great success.
Driving through the picturesque hilly landscape in the Western Cape of South Africa feels a little like driving through the famous vineyards of Bordeaux or Burgundy in France. The many grape orchards in and around Stellenbosch are already proof enough that South Africa belongs to the top ten table-grape-producing countries in the world – and the Fruit Farm Group South Africa is among the country’s most important producers and exporters, not only of table grapes but also of avocados, lychees, apples and pears.
The Mediterranean climate and fertile soil provide ideal conditions for growing table grapes. However, the Fruit Farm Group South Africa faces the huge challenge of improving productivity and sustainability at the same time. To tackle this challenge, Chief Executive Officer Trevor Dukes and his team have implemented gravity irrigation and the use of solar energy. However, the Fruit Farm Group South Africa wants more. “Sustainability is an ongoing process; it is not something that can be achieved immediately,” says Dukes.
Higher quality and longer shelf life
To achieve its ambitious goals, the Fruit Farm Group South Africa joined forces with Bayer in a Food Chain Partnership project three years ago. As a first step, the initiative focused on table grapes – a highly sensitive fruit that spoils easily. One of the major challenges of the cooperation was to produce table grapes of higher quality and with a longer shelf life, while at the same time implementing best sustainable practices. A longer shelf life is indeed very important as the grapes are transported over long distances to Europe, Southeast Asia and China.
“One of the key achievements was the reduced fruit loss,” says Margaret Reinecke, Area Manager at Bayer.
South Africa is one of the top ten table-grape-producing countries.
As a first step, Bayer developed an alternative tailored spraying program that includes the fungicide Luna® Privilege. On trial fields, the Bayer program was compared with the Fruit Farm Group’s standard practices. “We had some very rainy seasons. So the programs were tested thoroughly, as fungal diseases spread enormously when everything is moist,” says Dukes. “The heavy rains were not predictable and Bayer had to adapt their program. This proved to us that they were not running a standard program.”
Reduced spraying volume thanks to special nozzles
To limit possible residues, Bayer suggested using low-drift nozzles to improve the effectiveness of the spray and reduce the total spraying volume. In addition, Food Chain Managers offered training sessions to showcase the safe handling of crop protection products. “We also plan to implement the Bayer Sustainability Radar,” says Margaret Reinecke, Area Manager at Bayer. “This innovative tool registers how sustainable the cultivation methods are in social, economic and ecological terms.”
After the harvest, the results were evaluated by the independent research institute Experico, which has also joined the Food Chain Partnership for this project. The table grapes were analyzed according to specifications such as color, shelf life and food integrity. “One of the key achievements was the reduced fruit loss,” says Margaret Reinecke.
About the Fruit Farm Group South Africa
The producer and exporter of table grapes has been working together with Bayer since 2013. Apart from grapes, they also produce avocados, lychees, apples and pears. In total, the Fruit Farm Group South Africa has about 1,000 employees and produces 25,000 tons of fruit per year, of which 50 percent is exported to Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and China.
Trevor Dukes is very pleased with the decision to join the Food Chain Partnership. “With Bayer, I believe we can share knowledge and solve problems. I would definitely recommend this partnership.” Bayer and the Fruit Farm Group South Africa are therefore planning to extend their partnership to other crops. Bayer has also benefited from the cooperation. For example, they have had the opportunity to implement and adapt a program based on the needs of the Fruit Farm Group and also receive performance data that will be used for future projects and consultations.
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