Habata have extended their net protection system to cover a variety of citrus crops as the Sundays River Valley-based company strive to ensure their annual output reaches its highest possible level.
From initially covering eight hectares of the nadorcott variety of mandarins, Habata have now spread their nets to protect 30 hectares of citrus, targeting those varieties with the highest export value.
Director of production Gary Webb explained the switch to netting, having previously used wind breaks to protect the orchards against wind damage.
“Wind breaks, however, absorb a lot of water as their roots expand as they grow, which interferes with the growth of the citrus trees at the edges of the orchards,” said Webb.
“Nets do not use water and will help the citrus trees on the edges of the orchard to produce better and more fruit. Higher pack-outs are obtained and, hence, more fruit can be exported.”
He added that nets also helped to prevent cross-pollination of different citrus cultivars, while adding protection against hail, insects and birds.
“It is also believed that nets help create a more uniform fruit size and bigger fruit.”
Importantly, the netting system has a positive effect in that the crops require less water due to the more humid environment it creates.
“As a result of the humidity, less irrigation is required, while lower leaf and fruit temperatures are also obtained under the nets,” said Webb.
“This lower temperature enables leaves to transpire naturally and the tree to take up the necessary nutrients over a longer period during the day. The nets, therefore, significantly reduce climatic stress.”
Webb said the nets could be set up at any time of the year, although the best timing would be just after harvest before the new fruit set in for the next season.
“The estimated lifespan is between 10 and 15 years, depending on weather conditions.
“The nets are manufactured from high density polyethylene, with high-quality colour concentrates and ultraviolet stabilisation additives.”
The nets are held in place by cables which are strung through them and fixed to poles, which are anchored in the ground.
They used drip irrigation under the netting, said Webb.
“It causes less humidity and humidity can stimulate the development of diseases.”