Warren Bam: “Organic table grape farming rewarding but challenging”
UK and Europe eagerly waiting for organic table grapes from South Africa
The first organic table grapes for the season from Warren Bam’s, WCB Farming in South Africa is expected to arrive in week 7 in the UK and Europe. His receivers in the UK and retailers in Continental Europe are eagerly awaiting some of the latest seedless varieties grown by his hand. He produces organic table grapes on the farm Gunsteling (Favourite) one of only 5 fully organically certified production units in South Africa.
“Organic farming is rewarding but can be very challenging. This year our winter rains were long and intense while our season started later than usual. I started harvesting the organic grapes in week 2. It was a rather stop start beginning to the season. Initially we could only pack for about two days per week and had to wait for the grape berries to reach the optimal sugar levels. The arrivals taking place from week 7 are now eagerly awaited in our key markets,” says Bam.
His organic grapes are supplied to his long-standing customer the UK’s Ethical Fruit Company and directly to a range of Europe’s leading high-end supermarkets.
FreshPlaza visited Bam on his farms in Saron, a lush table grape growing area situated about 130 km outside Cape Town. The visit was arranged by the !Xhariep Region of the Agricultural Writers South Africa – the professional society for agricultural journalists in that country – who gave Bam the award as New Entrant to Commercial Farming in 2017.
Bam, the son of the late Herman Bam a farm worker from Saron, who during South Africa’s apartheid years was excluded from studying agriculture. He now successfully owns the over 100-hectare conventional table grape farm Wesland with third generation farmer Wessel van Niekerk, the son of his late father’s employer. A few years ago Bam and Van Niekerk were fortunate to also buy the neighbouring farm, Die Denne, situated in-between the Gunsteling and Wesland farms. They now have a combined over 200 hectares with an export volume of between 500 000 to 570 000 cartons of the latest and most sought-after seedless table grape varieties. These include varieties like Joybells (the SA bred cultivar), Autumn Crisp, Sweet Globe, Jack Salute, Allison, Sweet Sapphire, Arra 15 and a few others.
He has a long history with organic farming having received his breakthrough to live out his passion of farming with table grapes on a neighbouring farm Lushof. It was at Bam’s father’s funeral over 21 years ago when van Niekerk’s brother Braam asked him to join their farm as manager. Lushof was eventually sold to a British farmer who also asked Bam to farm not only organic table grapes but organic blueberries as well.
Bam and Wessel van Niekerk’s successful partnership is a prime example of what can be achieved in South African farming with industry (SATI) and government (both Western Cape Agriculture and National Government) support in the form of money, implements etc. to drive true transformation of equal ownership.
Now more than 20 years later, Bam amassed all this practical experience of organic as well as conventional farming. This places him in a unique position as owner of both types of farms to draw first-hand comparisons between the cultivation, packing and shipping requirements of both.
“While on the organic side it is a niche market with few suppliers you can achieve a premium on prices compared to conventional grapes per box, with a more stable and predictable price irrespective of the berry size. However, organic farming is very challenging, you need daily hands-on management. You cannot even really relax on Christmas or New Year’s Day because the organic vines need constant and fine attention to reach optimal levels. Chemicals, as much needed crop protection and risk mitigation tools, are very limited. In organic farming we are allowed to apply certain contact chemicals, but this washes off with each bout of rain and must be reapplied to the grapes at great expense. In conventional farming you are allowed to spray systemic chemicals to protect your crop.”
“Although we use much less chemicals than conventional farming the fertilizer requirements and thus costs are much higher. We also apply fertilizer by hand. Certain actions like weed control are very critical in organic farming,” explains Bam.
“I am blessed with the Hand of God on my life to live out my passion while I am able to eventually pass on the business to my son Gabriel. There is nothing more that I like in life than to hold the unplanted vine in my hand and marvel that it can grow for 20 years and be able to provide an income for me and my family and so many others that are reliant on this business,” ends Bam.
Article Source: Freshplaza.com
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