When South African carrot grower Vito Rugani wanted to add value to his harvest he embarked on a journey two years ago to produce his own juice from second grade vegetables.
Now he is the only farmer in the world that uses nothing but the natural vegetable to produce the carrot juice and has plans to introduce others. Greenway Farms Ltd is run by business partners Vito Rugani and Vincent Sequeira and operates 2 500 hectares of vegetables with irrigation pivots on three separate farms.
Having introduced the Rugani carrot juice to the business equation two years ago, chief executive Vito has big plans to extend his juice extraction process to other vegetables as well, possibly even to produce sweet potato juice.
Vito started his farming enterprise back in 1988 with the goal of growing the best quality carrots he could for the domestic markets.
Today, together with his business partner and chief operations officer, Sequeira, Vito has grown Greenway Farms Ltd into the biggest producer of carrots in South Africa. However, not content with just having the best carrots, Vito also has set ambitious goals to produce the best quality vegetable juices he can, making his business more efficient by using more of his second grade carrots and other vegetables in the process.
Carrots have a four month growing season, so Vito staggers his own growing process on the three farms to ensure an even production all year round. With one farm on the highveld of Tarlton, Gauteng Province, about 75km west of Johannesburg, the other two are located at Boskop in the Waterberg in Limpopo and Christiana in the Free State.
Each location was specifically chosen to supply carrots in its own optimal season as they each have different soil types and climatic conditions. However, operating three farms with different planting and harvesting schedules takes a lot of organising and planning.
In early summer carrots are grown on the farm in the Waterberg region of Limpopo Province. Starting in November, the Gauteng farm will start production and run until February, and then the focus moves south to Christiana in the Free State.
The company employs 250 staff on the farms and in the carrot processing plant to keep the business rolling. Greenway Farms Ltd invests heavily in its staff and machinery to each other’s complement.
“Mechanising your business and implementing new machinery does not, contrary to popular belief, make people lose jobs and add to unemployment,” the company says.
“It simply makes the labour process more productive. At Greenway carrot farm we call it marrying man and machine.”
Vito said the decision to juice carrots was an easy one to make once he was loaded with all the correct information regarding the extraction process.
He said: “Just under two years ago we decided to add value to the carrots by building a processing plant that extracted the juice from carrots, producing an entirely natural food product that has a shelf life of 18 months.
“While juicing carrots currently only utilises three per cent of all the carrots the team grows at Greenway Farms, that particular side of the business is starting to take off and exports are already on the way to the United States, Japan, Dubai, Cyprus and China.”
Considering there are only 100 farms producing 80 percent of all the carrots in the world, this demonstrates how specialist these farms are. Vito uses 12 species of carrots on the farms including Vilmorin but also others developed in The Netherlands and France.
“Normally there are about one million carrots produced per hectare,” said Vito, “which equates to around 75 tonnes per hectare. The carrots are grown for four months in the ground, which is then rotated on a three year system with wheat, brassicas and sorghum.
“Following the carrots we would min-till in wheat as another cash crop in the rotation. Next up we sow brassicas and then sorghum which are left to decompose as nutrients in the soil before returning the land back to growing the carrots.
“Even the tiniest detail makes a difference to our Rugani carrots. We promote the micro life in our soils and do everything we can to protect the micro fauna and flora on our farms. We work from the ground up with our own enriched organic compost, which nurtures our carrots as they take seed and grow.”
The evolution of technology moves very quickly and also with regard to specialist vegetable harvesting machinery.
“When it comes to planting our carrots we use precision drilling with the latest GPS technology and precision drilling equipment,” said Vito. “It is capital intensive, though, as the machinery required for seeding and harvesting are specific to carrots. “However, as we harvest all year long this reduces our expenditure as the machinery is being used more often,” he said.
Out in the fields a self-propelled Asa-Lift carrot harvester lifts all the carrots into boxes on trailers. The carrots are then hauled back to the farm by a fleet of Valtra and John Deere tractors for processing.
When harvesting is at the two furthest away farms the carrots are transported to the Tarlton factory by truck.
All told the farm produces in excess of 60,000 tonnes of carrots per year of which 75 percent are premium grade carrots for sale to the end consumer. The remaining 25 percent is second grade which can be juiced.
“We grow, harvest and produce 50 percent of all the first grade carrots in South Africa,” said Vito. “These are sold mostly in one kilogramme bags and we supply them all year round. The carrot really is a popular vegetable here in Africa.”
Using a process called hydro-cooling, Vito and his team can extend the shelf life of carrots from days to weeks. Carrots can thus be picked, washed, packed and chilled to just 2C within an hour, maintaining their quality and freshness.