The installation of citrus nets has cost Habata Agri thousands, but the innovative solution to combat the elements is paying dividends.
“We first made the decision to install citrus nets in 2015, and since then there’s been a notable increase in our pack-out and fruit yield,” said Habata operations manager Gary Webb.
He said their Addo and Kirkwood based operation had seen a pack-out – the amount of fruit deemed suitable for the market – of approximately 98 per cent recently.
“Without these nets, we would usually only have a pack-out of about 70 per cent, so there really has been a marked increase since we’ve installed them.”
Habata currently have 50 hectares of netting on their Sundays River Valley farms and 27 at Le Grand Chasseur outside Robertson in the Western Cape.
Webb said their aim was to increase this by 100 hectares every year for the next five years.
Besides being costly, the process of installing nets is a time-consuming affair. Webb said the nets cost approximately R200 000 per hectare and could take months to install.
He explained that while citrus nets were not yet common throughout South Africa, the harsh winds and baking sun in the regions where they farmed were the main factors that motivated their decision.
“The Eastern Cape is a very windy area and we knew the nets would help increase our tonnage if we could protect our produce against the wind and sunburn.”
In addition to offering protection from the elements, the nets also prevent birds from getting to the fruit. This, said Webb, was part of the reason they had experienced a higher pack-out percentage.
He said a further advantage was that they allowed for the production of produce that would not naturally do well in an area, which offered an opportunity to add to their variety of produce in the future.
The nets also reduced water consumption, something Webb said was a distinct positive due to the severe water shortages in large areas of the country.
“The nets trap water and this increases humidity, meaning there’s less need for irrigation.”
While the nets have yielded positive results, Webb said the impact on their overall production would only become clear in time.
The nets were initially installed for Habata’s nadorcotts – a high-value commodity.