Habata operations manager Gary Webb said the butternut had largely replaced the traditional pumpkin as a nutritional source, with several varieties being used for different dishes.
“We did the first planting of butternuts more than 10 years ago and they are available at all major retailers in South Africa,” he said.
Butternuts, part of the cucurbit family and marketed under the Habata brand, are in season from the end of November to the end of June and Webb said the bigger varieties were used for processing, often to make soup.
One of the biggest producers of the cucurbit in the Eastern Cape, Habata cultivate the pluto and gilda varieties for bagging, while the atlas variety is used for processing.
“These varieties have been planted for the past few years and to date they are still the best around. They are all hybrids and the seed is expensive.”
Hybrids are created by inter-breeding different varieties, often resulting in an improved product which takes the best characteristics of the parent varieties.
Webb said the new varieties had a smaller seed cavity and were a more compact and dense fruit.
“This results in a return of a higher yield per plant, which is obviously a big plus for us,” he said.
“We have revamped the packhouse for butternuts and the produce is packaged according to customer requirements – in 3kg or 6kg bags, as well as loose.”
They are currently in the middle of the harvesting season and Webb said they produced about 1 200 tonnes per month.
“We try to keep the plants healthy and re-boost them once the main set has been taken off.
“You can pick for about three months from a field.”
He added that the yield had been good compared to previous years, but that prices were under pressure due to over-supply from other regions.
“The weather has been good for the butternuts because they thrive in hot, dry conditions, much the same as the melons.”