SOUTH AFRICA – Bovenvlei Farm, situated in the heart of South Africa’s Swartland, is gearing up for an early kick-off to the pomegranate season.

Specializing in the ‘Wonderful’ variety, known for its robust yield and market demand, the 70-hectare farm, under the leadership of Managing Director Debbie Theunissen, is set to deliver an estimated harvest of 2,000 tons for the 2024 season, commencing in March.

While the usual start date for harvest was March 25, this year, they are set to begin on March 6, a testament to their commitment to meeting market demands.

However, climatic conditions in the previous growing season have led to an anticipated decrease in crop volumes by about 10 to 15%.

Plant pathologist and Bovenvlei Director, Elrita Venter, sheds light on the challenges faced in the South African context, considering long travel distances and storage limitations.

She explains, “We have to look at the realities in South Africa, which are long travel distances and storage ability.”

The cultivation area for pomegranates in South Africa has remained around one thousand hectares for the past few years, and the Venters acknowledge the complexity of cultivating this high-value crop.

Hendri Venter, Technical Manager at Bovenvlei, emphasizes the intensive nature of pomegranate farming, citing a lack of sufficient information on production practices and a limited range of registered crop protection remedies.

Despite these challenges, Bovenvlei is actively involved in marketing its own fruit, with a focus on improving production practices to achieve higher class 1 packouts.

Hendri notes that demand for class 1 fruit remains high, and they are exploring new markets, including the Middle East.

Apart from the EU and the UK, Bovenvlei exports a significant portion of its pomegranate crop to the Middle East.

Hendri expresses anticipation for future market expansions, stating, “We are looking forward to, in the future, also being able to access new markets such as Asia and the USA.”

Packing at third-party facilities, Bovenvlei faces a tight window due to the limited number of packhouses equipped to handle pomegranates.

The farm experiences a surge in manpower during harvesting, with over 400 employees, up from the usual 35 permanent staff.

In addition to pomegranates, Bovenvlei is venturing into passionfruit cultivation. With two main peak harvest seasons, the farm is navigating the challenges of a labour-intensive process. The passionfruit is primarily sold locally, with plans for exports in the pipeline.

Elrita Venter, with a background in science, reflects on the intricacies of successful farming, saying, “If you map out everything you need to have in place and implement efficiently – despite diverse external challenges, it’s surely one of the most challenging, but exciting businesses to be in.”

As the pomegranate season unfolds at Bovenvlei, the farm remains resilient, adapting to challenges and eyeing future growth opportunities in both local and international markets.

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