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Sustainability in practice: Nature-friendly farming reduces costs for South African potato farmer

Managing plant health and strict water monitoring have paved the way to success for AL 3 Boerdery in South Africa’s Limpopo province. CT van der Merwe spoke to Lindi Botha of Farmers Weekly about the production practices that keep his farming business profitable.

Potato production at AL 3 Boerdery is spread across three provinces to ensure a 10-month supply to the markets. Farms in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape provide an annual harvest of between 55 000t and 60 000t, and achieve an average yield of 60t/ha.

The main cultivar grown is Valor, and limited quantities of Georgina, Taisiya, Lanorma, Mondeo, Panamera and Mondial are also produced. CT van der Merwe, CEO of AL†3 Boerdery, says that it is important to stay up to date with new cultivars on the market, and he therefore plants small quantities of different varieties to test their performance.

CT van der Merwe

The key to successful potato production, he stresses, is to maintain soil health. He thus rests the land between crops. ďBecause itís so hot and dry in Dendron [in Limpopo], we have the advantage that diseases tend to abate more quickly. However, we struggle to keep healthy organisms alive, which necessitates planting cover crops. And we still have to kill the harmful bacteria,Ē he explains.

In a five-year cycle, potatoes are planted in year one, the land is rested in year two, and onions or butternut are planted in year three. This is followed by sorghum. The following year, potatoes are planted again to start the new cycle.

Van der Merwe has shifted towards minimum-till in an effort to create a habitat favouring micro-organisms.

Plant health is of the utmost importance, he stresses. ďPests and diseases always affect the weaker plants first. For this reason, we donít spray correctively, but preventatively.

According to Van der Merwe, 90% of a potato farmerís success is based on the quality of seed. For this reason, AL 3 Boerdery grows its own seed in partnership with Richtersveld Growers in Alexander Bay, who multiplies the seed from a G0 to a G3.

Source: Farmers Weekly. Read the full and extensive article to learn about other sustainable cropping mechanisms that Van der Merwe skillfully put into practice.

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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