In 2020, despite the challenging global situation, the South African pepper growers of Emseni made the decision to invest in an expansion of 3ha, bringing their total greenhouse operation to 12ha. Their ambition: to be the largest pepper producer in the region. Emseni entrusted Vegtech Netafim with the project on a complete turnkey basis.
Younger generation of farmers
“In South Africa, the interest in high-tech agriculture has grown. Similar to the rest of the world, there’s topics like climate change, consumers demand for high-quality crops 365 days a year boosting this, as well as new crops like cannabis and the progress on genetics of outdoor crops creating a demand for nurseries to produce new plant material.
"Nowadays, a younger generation of farmers is entering the market and they are increasingly familiar with international trends and new technologies”, says Neta Isralls with Vegtech Netafim. The company is driving the Africa activity in the greenhouse industry of their parent company Netafim. They have been providing greenhouse solutions in Southern Africa for more than two decades by now.
“Agriculture has proven to be one of the more resilient sectors in the SA economy, and there are still significant opportunities for development. Together with our partner Netafim, we are well positioned to provide precision farming solutions for almost all crops, that have been proven to reduce risk & maximise yield,” Neta explains. And that means greenhouses, a lot of them.
“The climate in SA is generally suited to poly greenhouses and as the demand for better quality fresh produce increased, the demand for undercover farming solutions that could guarantee that, followed.”
An example of these developments is the new greenhouse of the pepper growers Emseni, one of the biggest sweet pepper producers in the country. Almost thirty years ago they started growing peppers in tunnels, ten years ago they realized 2.5 hectare of greenhouses and over the last decade, Vegtech added more than 10 hectares of high-tech greenhouses. Last year, they decided to add another 3 hectare, bringing the total acreage to 12 hectare plus an on-site nursery.
Ground was broken in Q1 2020, as COVID lockdowns were enforced around the world, disrupting supply chains and construction works. Despite these unprecedented challenges, Vegtech Netafim was able to successfully execute the project on time and within budget. In less than 12 months the project was up and running, and producing high-quality peppers for the local market.
The new greenhouse is covered with polyethylene over the roof and multiwall polycarbonate on the sidewalls. Since electricity supply is a concern in South Africa, reliable back-up power supply is essential in all the projects. “Also, many of our projects are in remote areas, and we take great care to ensure that all the systems are seamlessly integrated and that we’re able to support our customers remotely,” Neta says.
Average yield over 30 kg
There’s a 6MW heating system included in the project, as well as an irrigation system and fully integrated climate and irrigation control. “Climate change and scarce resources are additional risks that we can mitigate when growing in greenhouses. By using these techniques, we can create continuous, profitable, and sustainable growing conditions 365 days a year despite the challenging climate,” Neta shows, adding that they are to reduce the water use by 35% thanks to the closed-cycle irrigation system that captures rainwater and irrigation run-off, disinfects and then mixes with borehole water.
The growers hope to harvest over 3.000 tons per year, resulting in an average yield over 30 kg per m2. All of it will be supplied to the local market, bringing retailers, food processors and fresh produce markets across South Africa a safely grown and quality supply of peppers. “Consumers are becoming more discerning and therefore our customers are looking for guaranteed results and return on their investments,” says Neta. “There’s no room to cut corners anymore.”