When land claimants, commercial partners and the government band together it leads to profitable ventures, and agriculture minister Thoko Didiza believes a citrus farm near Hankey is a prime example of what these partnerships can achieve.

citrus farm

Didiza visited the Threepence Farm on Tuesday where seasonal workers were picking fruit destined for the international market.

She praised the Katoo Family Trust and their partners for how the operation was run.

The farm, situated halfway between Hankey and Patensie, has 54 hectares of land producing citrus for domestic and international markets.

But farm manager Khaya Katoo said their aim was  to up production significantly.

“The farm was handed over to our family in 2005 through a long land claim process.

“Thanks to government involvement and our commercial partners, the farm took a turn for the better in 2010 and started growing from there.”

He said the farm produced between 60,000 and 70,000 cartons of fruit annually, and had 14 full-time employees.

Eight of these were Katoo family members.

During picking season, the farm employs up to 80 temporary workers from the community.

The citrus produced on Threepence is usually exported to several of SA’s trade markets, namely Europe, Asia and Russia.

The goal is to increase production to 120,000 cartons annually.

“Our citrus production is done in partnership with commercial farmers from the region, and the same farmers have also leased about 100ha from us for vegetable production.

“As we acquire more funding and resources, we will slowly take back portions of that land to expand the citrus ventures,” Katoo said.

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According to Pietie Ferreira, who is the commercial partner through Wagondrift Farming, they harvested Nadorcot soft citrus during the minister’s visit, and this fruit will eventually find its way into international markets.

On a portion of land Wagondrift is leasing from the Katoo Family Trust, they are producing potatoes, cauliflower and other fresh produce for a local supermarket chain.

While picking fruit with a big smile on her face, Didiza said she was impressed with the work being done on Threepence Farm and that it was  the perfect example of synergy between land claims, commercial farming and government involvement.

“We all know fruit destined for international markets have to meet a certain standard, and here we can see a farming project that exceeds that standard.

“Projects like Threepence give us hope and show us what can be achieved through long-lasting co-operation.”

Asked about challenges facing the citrus industry, particularly the European Union’s new cold storage regulations, she said her department was fighting for a more suitable arrangement.

The EU’s standing committee on plant, animal, food and feed (SCOPAFF) introduced new cold storage and shipping regulations that require SA oranges to be shipped at lower temperatures than before.

In 2023, the regulations will be taken even further and could put orange exports to European countries out of SA’s reach.

Until a few weeks ago, oranges leaving SA were kept in cold storage and shipped at temperatures around 7ºC.

The new regulations require the temperature of the same fruit to drop to 5ºC for the remainder of 2022.

According to reports from the EU, the new temperature regulations are to prevent the occurrence of false codling moths (FCM), a species of moth that damages fruit and lays its eggs under an orange’s peel, leading  to major fruit losses.

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However, in the last three years SA exports have seen only 14, 19 and 15 cases, respectively, of FCM, which were all intercepted and dealt with before they caused significant damage.

“The new regulations were brought into play without proper consultation with our government and it was implemented with unreasonable time frames,”  Didiza said.

“So our department is fighting with the EU while I am in communication with their ministers to see if we can come to some sort of agreement.”

Didiza said the government had approached the World Trade Organisation to see if there were regulations that prohibited hasty decisions by the EU.

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