Cape Town - Tru-Cape’s ability to sell more South African apples and pears is supported by growers and packers, like Ceres Fruit Growers, that meet and often exceed the high global standards of excellence, according to Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing managing director Roelf Pienaar.
When German consumer pressure groups first lobbied supermarkets at the turn of the 21st century to reduce the use of chemicals used in managing the pests in the crops they sold, that pressure distilled all the way to the apple and pear growing regions in South Africa.
Today the growers for Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest SA apple and pear marketing company, responsible for the livelihoods of 15 200 people, have some of the lowest Minimum Residue Levels (MRL) in the country and exceed the European Union standard in this regard.
“Our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme was developed as a response to the need to find ways to successfully manage pests and diseases that impact apple and pear crops in a way that has the least impact on the environment," says De Kock Hamman, technical adviser at Ceres Fruit Growers, one of Tru-Cape’s grower owned packhouses.
“In 2011 we detected between 27 and 30 active chemicals to manage pests and now just four or five, which are also softer chemicals that have less impact on the environment. We also change the way we apply chemicals by using ultra-low volume sprayers. We spray at night to avoid bees and birds and monitor temperature carefully for triggers for coddling moth outbreak, for example."
He said natural predators play a significant role in managing pests like aphids, for example.
"We also use biological tools that are highly focussed and not harmful to the operator or the environment, like mating disruptors which very effectively control the Coddling Moth population. It confuses the male about the location of the female by spreading moth pheromone over a wide area so the male dies before mating," explains Hamman.
Releasing sterile insects is similarly successful.
"We also apply sticky physical barriers to tree stems to prevent bugs reaching the fruit. These techniques, combined with a change in how we manage past-prime trees - chipping and mulching organic matter rather than burning it - have seen a great improvement in the management of orchards with as few chemicals as possible and requiring less water than before,” he says.
According to Ceres Fruit Growers managing director Francois Malan, 90% of their crops comply with the German standard, which is a third more rigorous than the EU standard.
“Ceres growers can hold our heads up high when we meet our international colleagues as being among the global leaders in positive environmental practices,” he says.
According to Malan, the drought conditions of summer 2015 had only a limited impact on the harvest as growers quickly responded with water-saving programmes and more targeted watering that used technology like FruitLook GIS, which highlighted areas that most urgently needed water.
Hamman says that Ceres Fruit Growers are active in the Orchards of the Future programme which is an industry-wide peer group to share best practice among the technical experts.
"As our factory has no roof, we must do all we can to better understand and care for our environment,” he says.