Blueberry boom: As an irrigation consultant and specialist
The South African blueberry industry is one of the fastest-growing horticultural industries in the country, one can almost call it a blueberry boom. This niche sector has the potential to create many economic opportunities for farmers and exporters alike, as well as others in the agricultural value chain. The sector would as a result also create many more jobs for agricultural workers, in an area where this is sorely required. If there was ever a time to invest in a crop, it would be now.
In a comprehensive report issued in July 2019, the South African Berry Producers’ Association (SABPA) disclosed impressively and encouraging statistics for the sector. In terms of exports, growth is particularly significant. In 2014, South Africa was exporting just over 1 500 metric tonnes of blueberries. This year so far, we have already exported 14 000 tonnes – a clear indication of the industry’s exponential growth at around 160% increase per annum. In monetary terms, the export market grew from R133 million in 2013 to R1,058 billion in 2018. Job creation forecasts suggest that by 2023 the sector could employ up to 14 000 people and export as much as 50 000 tonnes if we keep on track.
In order to reach such targets, farmers will need to manage their crops and orchards properly, especially from a water management perspective. Many areas of South Africa face regular water shortages and deal with water scarcity. Most local areas are far hotter than the fruit’s native home, North America.
The South African blueberry harvest season traditionally starts in September and ends in mid-February. There are three varieties of blueberries grown in South Africa – Northern Highbush, Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye. Just over 60% of production is done under cover of nets to protect crops from harsher climatic conditions. The use of nets is largely driven by retail and export market demands, which require minimal use of pesticides and also to protect blueberries from rain, hail and heat damage.
When it comes to water management, blueberries can be a sensitive crop that requires just the right fertigation system to ensure optimal yields. This is where Cherry Irrigation comes in.
Cherry Irrigation has been involved in the cultivation of the blueberry boom all over Southern Africa for well over a decade. Through our hands-on experience, our team has developed a keen understanding of the specific irrigation needs and fertigation requirements of this so-called super fruit, with its antioxidant punch and pleasant flavour, which is prized throughout the world.
Through ongoing projects in the Western Cape, Limpopo, North West, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Cherry Irrigation has developed a solid reputation as an industry leader in the arena of blueberry cultivation. We are well-known for our innovative irrigation designs that help farmers maximise their yields, and to date, our team has designed over a 1 000 ha of blueberries, with continued growth. SABPA has predicted that by 2023, there could be close to 5 000 ha of blueberry orchards across the country. While the Western Cape is currently the region with most planting, there is ample scope for growth in Limpopo, North West, Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, the Free State and Mpumalanga, where plantations already exist.
Cherry Irrigation differentiates itself in the sector through our approach and service. We do thorough research and offer everything from surveys to conducting overall planning, design supply of material, installation and continued maintenance. We are also leaders in the field of substrate irrigation design.
Our head control and infield drip irrigation systems are designed for precise irrigation scheduling and fertigation, something of particular importance when it comes to cultivating blueberry crops successfully. In addition, our team recognises the importance of water saving, energy efficiency and off-site system monitoring, as well as training staff to continue the work. We also offer maintenance and back-up support. This full-service offering ensures a far greater success rate for farmers we serve and partner with.
We are excited about the growth of this super fruit in South Africa and wider in Southern Africa and look forward to partnering with entrepreneurial, energetic and like-minded agriculturalists and horticulturalists to move the sector forward and in the right direction.