Delicious apples are truly a gift from nature, providing a crisp, juicy flavour sensation whether they are eaten as a snack, added to a filling salad, or served as a sweet treat.
How, therefore, does this crispy, nutrient-rich creation make it to our fruit bowl, especially in light of the numerous electricity and weather-related difficulties farmers face?
According to Gysbert du Toit, marketing director at Dutoit Agri, increasing erratic weather patterns severely impact the management of apples.
Operating in an unfriendly environment
“Extremes in heat, rainfall, and hail have become the new normal,” Du Toit said, adding that a spike in temperature even if only for a day, can cause fruit to get sunburnt. Drought is another constant threat.
“The lack of consistent power inhibits our ability to apply irrigation where needed most effectively,” he added.
According to Du Toit, the current energy crisis has had an impact on the production of apples, not only in terms of financial costs at farms and packhouses, but also in terms of human resources.
“On the farm side, the worst has been during the summer months when the daily irrigation cycles could not be completed within normal working hours, or even within daylight hours, and production staff had to work through the night to start pumps to irrigate.”
Storage challenges due to load shedding
“When there is no electricity, the cold rooms do not have the capacity to chill fruit within the required time, and the packhouses cannot run as normal,” he said.
Dutoit Agri was one of the first companies to use cutting-edge new cold storage techniques, such as storing fruit under a dynamically controlled climate to preserve fruit quality. Expensive generators have been installed at the packhouses so that production can continue.
DuToit, a renowned grower and distributor of premium fruit and vegetables, produces 200 000 tons of fruit in total each year, with apples accounting for 80% of that total, or about 900 million apples annually.
“The cost to produce, pack, and transport fruit is exposed to the same inflation as all other sectors. Dutoit is constantly re-evaluating what we do to be more efficient, smarter, and precise,” he said.
A new plan
He believes precision fertilisation is one effective way of reducing the variability within an orchard. This saves on application rates, which not only has a cost-saving implication but also a positive effect on the environment.
“Research and development are crucial to the sustainability of the Dutoit business. To become more effective, we need to work smarter, and the only way to do that is to learn more and to do better.
“For example, if we grow smaller trees at higher densities, we can not only increase our production of apples per hectare, but we can pick more from the ground which means our labour is more effective. We can also more easily cover the orchard with nets which decreases the incidence of sunburned fruit and the amount of irrigation water we need to apply, and also protects the orchard from hail.”
According to Du Toit, by forging long-term relationships with their end buyers and consumers, and keeping the handling chain as short as possible, enables them to ensure fruit quality at a price the end consumer and afford.
Get the Mzansi Flavour newsletter: A weekly serving of crave-able recipes and handy lifestyle tips.