A hot, dry season has put Habata Agri on track to meet their production goals for seedless watermelons, said financial director Jurgens Steenkamp.
The Eastern Cape side of the operation, which supply Shoprite’s fruit and vegetable procurement company Freshmark, have increased their acreage to meet demands.
Steenkamp said they aimed to produce between 50 and 55 tonnes per hectare to meet the requirements of Freshmark, who are currently one of the largest buyers of fresh produce in Africa.
“We had a national deal on seedless watermelons with them and, to ensure there’s no shortfall, we’ve increased acreage by about 10 per cent this year,” he said.
With a total of 220 hectares dedicated to the production of their seedless watermelons, Steenkamp said the weather conditions over the last few months had been perfect for the crops.
“They are a desert plant so they like hot temperatures. The recent weather has been ideal for them.
“They do enjoy a bit of rain too, but you don’t want excessive rain and overcast conditions for days at a time.”
While Steenkamp confirmed they expected to meet their targets, he said they were unsure of whether they would continue to supply overseas markets based on the prevailing exchange rate.
“We are still waiting for feedback to see if we’ll carry on with the exercise or not. We are definitely looking at different options this year,” he said.
The cultivation process of the cucurbit started roughly three months ago when the seeds were carefully sewn by hand, said Steenkamp.
It then took, according to him, anywhere between 70 and 90 days before the fruits were ready for harvesting, depending on weather conditions.
Steenkamp said this season’s watermelons were expected to be ready for harvesting towards the end of November or the start of December.
In addition to the hectares of land in the Eastern Cape, Steenkamp confirmed plans were still on track to introduce production at Le Grand Chasseur.
“Our plan to plant five hectares as a trial at our farm in the Western Cape is still in the pipeline. We’ll hopefully plant the seeds in October to see how it goes.”
He explained there were a number of ways to determine whether the crops were ready for harvesting.
“When picking we mostly check the king leaf and then also look at the yellow lie mark where it touches the ground. When it’s in the pack house you can knock it to hear if it’s hollow and ripe or not.”