The declining profitability of sugar farming prompted Chris Roux, owner of Paradise Creek Farms in Hectorspruit, Malelane in Mpumalanga, to diversify his operation in 2016 by including sweet peppers.
The following year, when his sons Antonie and Eugene were looking for ways to earn some pocket money, they planted a few rows of chillies.
“But we struggled to sell them,” recalls Roux. “The market is sensitive and if the volumes are too high, there are few buyers. So I looked for a more formal market, approaching packhouses that supplied chillies to supermarkets. We ended up being asked to supply a wide range of chilli varieties on a consistent basis, so we expanded our production,” reports www.farmersweekly.co.za
The brothers started planting chillies in 2017, and their father has taken production to new heights and succeeded on a challenging market. Since the cultivation of peppers is similar to chillies, the addition of the spicier variety fitted well into the production cycles on Paradise Creek.
Paradise Farms has 6ha planted to chillies. These comprise six types and a total of 17 varieties, including cayenne, Habanero, serrano, jalapeño and bird’s eye. Roux explains that they are still in the process of evaluating which varieties work best on the farm, hence the wide range of chillies within each type.
The Hectorspruit climate is well suited to chilli production, with winter temperatures seldom reaching below 10°C and summer highs of up to 45°C. The seedlings are planted around March, with the chillies harvested from May to December.
“We try to farm biologically as far as possible to keep our maximum residue levels (MRLs) low and so maintain market access. I believe that farming biologically is the best way to do this,” he says.
“When we plant, we use an insecticide that stays active for 30 days to prevent any insect damage. By the time we harvest, the chemicals are long gone, so our MRLs are not affected.”
Paradise Farms is GlobalGAP-accredited, but as its packhouse is not accredited to pack for supermarkets, the chillies are sorted on the farm and then sent to an accredited packhouse for packing.
“Retailers want a certain type, size and colour at certain times of the year, or even all year round, which is even more challenging. A chilli tree doesn’t produce the same size chilli throughout the season, so we need to have a variety of cultivars and sizes.”
Roux thinks the market for chillies is expanding due to the growing number of South Africans who enjoy hot food.
“Jalapeños didn’t have much of a market before chilli poppers became popular. But overall growth is somewhat limited. We won’t see the same growth as in avocados, for example."