Ricochet News

Climate change leads to a change in local citrus farming tactics

Aug 13, 2019
Climate change leads to a change in local citrus farming tactics

Sundays River Valley - There is evidence of climate change globally, but it’s also visible locally. For the past four seasons Endulini Fruit and the wider agricultural sector in South Africa has experienced numerous weather-related conditions that have negatively affected crops.

During the critical phenological stage[1], the fruit set and natural fruit fall period which typically occurs from October to December in South Africa, the Eastern Cape region is experiencing two or three heat waves. Heat waves which can reduce fruit set and increase fruit fall.

Talking about the recent changes in the climate, Enduluni Fruit CEO Pietie Ferreira says, “We have just come through a three-year drought with a well-below average rainfall, the 2016/17 season saw the Eastern Cape experiencing a heatwave with temperatures reaching 42°C, high wind speeds and relative humidity down to 10%.

"These conditions led to a significant fruit drop in the Sundays River Valley. Something which was last seen on this scale in 1939 in the East Cape Midlands.

“The following year, 2018/19 we experienced warm mountain winds in combination with low night temperatures during June and July that caused fruit and leaf drop.”

Making use of nets at Endulini Fruit

In order to shield crops from climatic stresses, Endulini Fruit is introducing netting. By the end of 2019 the citrus producer will have around 100 hectares of Washington navel, Cambria navel, Eureka lemon, Lisbon lemon, Nova mandarin, Nadorcott mandarin, Tango mandarin and the newly introduced, Queen mandarin, under nets following a successful test period.

Endulini Fruit is initially targeting high value varieties which need maximum packouts and seedlessness, and a selected hectares of each variety to trial and calculate benefits. “Our strategy is to close our younger orchards with nets and increase tonnage from an easrly stage, increase our packouts and neutralise any unfavourable weather conditions as best as possible.”

In the 2017/18 season Endulini Fruit compared a four-year orchard of Cambria navel trees under nets versus those without. “The test orchards were side-by-side, had the same soil, same rootstock, same irrigation and the same fertilisation program. At the end of the test the trees under nets delivered double the tonnage of fruit and were two times the size of the trees exposed to the elements.

If the nets are up before flowering, farmers can see a big difference in harvest within the first season.

“Under nets you decrease wind speeds by 40%, see water usage decrease by 20 to 30%, there’s no severe sunburn and the micro climate you create is more favourable for fruit set and can produce up to five times more class one fruit.”

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