Naudeshoek Farm is situated in a narrow, winding valley along the eastern bank of the Keiskamma River near Ripplemead, south of the Eastern Cape town of Alice. The farm is surrounded by wild natural beauty with pristine bushveld teeming with indigenous wildlife. Sydney Mpahla is the owner of the farm and has been farming on the property for 24 years. The farm is 146ha and has 48ha of citrus orchards. Naudeshoek is approximately 10km from Ripplemead Packhouse where the fruit from Naudeshoek and a few other local growers is packed.
Sydney grew up in the area and after completing his schooling he worked on Naudeshoek as a Farm Manager for the Department of Agriculture of the former Ciskei homeland. The land was owned by the Ciskei Department of Agriculture and was privatised from September 1992. The application process required applicants to compile and present a comprehensive business plan.
“I presented my business plan to the Department of Agriculture and after the interview the farm was awarded to me. I was truly thrilled to receive this property as I knew it so well by this stage.”
“The change of Government from the Ciskei to the South African Government meant the bank that had been funding us changed and became the Eastern Cape Rural Development Finance Institution and our funding ended abruptly. This created a great deal of uncertainty and difficult times for us. After much trying, we managed to secure financing through the IDC and in 2008 we also received government assistance from the Department of Agriculture. The loan I received from the IDC made it possible for me to plant 20ha of Late Navels and Valencias and these trees are now seven years old.”
Sydney received Recapitalisation Funding from the Department of Land Reform in October 2013, which he used to buy much-needed farm equipment, to clear the bush off the land for orchards, as well as to ridge the soil for the orchards in preparation for planting over the next few years. He was also part of a group of local growers who received a grant of fertiliser and other production chemicals from the Department of Agriculture, which helped bring down production costs.
“I still have the opportunity to expand by a further 32ha. I plan to plant this in phases and some of the trees for this expansion have already been ordered.”
One of the biggest challenges currently facing growth at Naudeshoek is that increases in production on Naudeshoek, as well as on the neighbouring farms, has meant that production in the area has out-stripped the packing capacity of the local Ripplemead Packhouse. Plans are nearing completion for the upgrading of Ripplemead Packhouse with the assistance of government funding.
“The problem with our packhouse is that we are not able to pack the fruit fast enough to keep up with the current production. This leads to rind breakdown and creasing of the fruit to the extent that it splits. The new packhouse will be good news as our pack-out percentage volumes will increase considerably. To avoid us having the same problem in a number of years from now, the packhouse will be designed to have more than the capacity currently required in order to provide the capacity for future increases in production.”
In 2014/2015 Naudeshoek’s production volumes were 60 000 cartons and 52 000 cartons respectively. The reduction in volumes was due to the heavy rains received resulting in a substantial loss of navels. A second factor influencing the reduction in crop was the result of the alternate bearing nature of some of the varieties on the farm.
“One of our other big challenges is the rise in input and transport costs. To transport one load of packed fruit the 300 kilometres from here to the harbour in Port Elizabeth costs us R8.500.”
“I started farming on my own in 1992 so I would like to know when I will have progressed beyond being classified as an emerging farmer. Although it has taken a long time to become established, 24 years, we have now got most of our systems in place.”
“My advice to new farmers is that while farming with citrus is a good crop with considerable potential, it is not a quick cash business. In this industry, you need to be patient, have access to funding and work hard for several years to realise a profit. My advice to new growers is to stick with the initiative and keep working because although it takes years for citrus to produce a full crop, it does pay well in the end.”
“I farm because I am passionate about it. My father was a village farmer and other people in our area also produced vegetables. When I was a youngster, my grandfather always told me to go to the fields and plough. My wife and children live close by and work on the farm every day.”
Besides the citrus orchards at Naudeshoek, there are also livestock and vegetables. There are 23 permanent workers who all live on the farm, and up to 130 seasonal workers can be employed during harvest season.
“My daughter Nomfundo is a great help on the farm. I am successful because of faith and grace and the commitment of my farm workers. My passion for farming carries me through.”