AgriZoneputs the veggies on Woolies’ table

2012-05-26 09:19

It might seem rather strange, but your Woolies veggies may well have been grown at Durban airport.

One of the coolest innovations in the Dube TradePort precinct at the King Shaka International Airport north of Durban is its AgriZone, a massive 16 hectare network of glasshouses in which peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are grown for use by Woolworths stores, predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal.

A team of 140 first-time workers – 130 of them women – have spent eight months being trained in hydroponic farming under the tutelage of expert Chris Scales.

Originally, each batch of the team’s produce, which includes six varieties of peppers, had to be certified before being forwarded to the high-end supermarket chain, but is now of such quality that it is moved automatically to Woolies stores.

Scales, who hails from the UK, said the business had grown dramatically over the past few months, with the climate-controlled glasshouses churning out crops every four months.

Advanced hydroponic technology, said Scales, allowed each plant to grow two stems, doubling the already escalated yield of every plant.

Dube TradePort chief executive Rohan Persad told City Press it invested in a full 16ha of fully climate-controlled glasshouses for agricultural production.

“We decided to invest in the agribusiness to assist in building the perishables industry. We went with the big-build approach, setting up the 12ha of glasshouse,’’ he said.

“In the past, 70% of Woolworths products were trucked into the province from inland. Now they are being produced here. The yields are phenomenal. What you normally need 10ha to produce we can produce on 1ha, with total climate control and several crops a year, because we can farm year-round,’’ he said.

The produce is washed, checked, sized, chilled and packed in-house, and trucked directly to the stores. About 10% of produce, which does not meet the standard, is donated to local schools.

A separate 4ha set of glasshouses is under construction for flower farming, with about half of the yield destined for the international market.

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