Lettuce: Meet the salad king of South Africa

Not knowing what to do after finishing his military service back in the 1970s, Michael Kaplan set off to work on a kibbutz in Israel. Back home in East London in 1978, he made the decision to become a farmer, an option that was met with criticism from family and peers who did not have farming backgrounds.

In pursuit of his dream, he wanted to study agriculture at the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in the Western Cape, but entries had already closed by the time he applied. So he began working at what was then the English Trust Company farm in Stellenbosch, thanks to an introduction from his childhood friend, Bruce Glazer, who already worked there.

“It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time, as the English Trust Company was one of the first to introduce farming tunnels in South Africa. “They produced tomatoes using the nutrient film technique [NFT] and experimented with the gravel flow technique [GFT] to grow butter lettuce and celery,” says Kaplan.

These hydroponic techniques, he explains, are similar in that both entail the circulation of a nutrient solution in a closed system. The difference is that with GFT, gravel is used as a growth medium, whereas, with NFT, plants are suspended and their roots exposed.

Today, they have 10ha under production in Muldersdrift, 200ha near Bapsfontein and 140ha near Philippi, as well as processing plants in the West and East Rand of Gauteng and in Franschhoek in the Western Cape.

Read the complete article at www.farmersweekly.co.za.

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