2017 Conference - South Africa

In February 2017 the Under forties conference visited South Africa with an action packed itinerary with wonderful weather, amazing scenery, fruit actually being harvested (usually in the northern hemisphere its deep in winter!). This was such a special conference as it was the 50th Anniversary of the Under Forties, so Chairman Charlie Dunn and his committee decided to organize the first U40's Conference to be held in The Southern Hemisphere.

After arriving in Capetown early on Monday (27th February) morning, meeting up with our drivers and their buses (three) the delegates set off for Zetlers Strawberry growers......

After our visit to Zetlers, we continue to our Hotel - the 1692 Spier Hotel in the grounds of a truly historic vineyard.

In 1692, this was one of the very first farms to be established in Stellenbosch. A restored Manor House, an intriguing collection of Cape Dutch gables and the oldest dated wine cellar in the country. All on a farm that takes a purist approach to farming for health.

Tuesday, up bright and early; leaving the hotel at 6.30am for Ceres. Ceres is the main town in the region and located near to Worcester. This region of the Western Cape is known as one of the richest agricultural centers in South Africa. A high density of orchards and farm land surround the town of Ceres. The region grows a plethora of apricots, apples, peaches, cherries and pears.

Goosen Boerdery a family stone and top fruit business located in Ceres in the Western Cape. Following lunch the U40's embarked on a 'mobile tour' of the nearby orchards. After the 'lorry tour' of the orchards, the next item on the agenda; a tour of the packhouse where Nectarines were being graded and packed. The Under 40's also had the opportunity to observe preparation and drying of Williams Bon Chretien pears; a variety often just described as 'Williams', or BC's as they were described at Goosens, this enables pears unsuitable for export class fruit with minor skin blemishes to be profitably utilised.

On Wednesday 1st March the U40's set off for Hermanus; the visit to Haygrove. Haygrove Heaven is just one of several sites in South Africa where Haygrove grows Raspberries and Blueberries in substrate filled pots. No soil production at all..... U40 delegates toured the production areas and the packing operation. Following the tour of Haygrove Heaven, U40 delegates enjoyed lunch at Haygrove

Next Stop - Fruitways. The U40 visit to Fruitways centred on a presentation of the Fruitways business by Alistair Moodie followed by a tour of the packhouse and an orchard visit. Following the visit to Fruitways, the U40's set off for the nearby Elgin Grabouw Country Club for Dinner with Alistair Moodie and key members of the Fruitways family

 

Thursday 2nd March, we visited Du Toit another huge South African farming business which farms a range of fruit, but the visit mainly looked at their Cherry production. Product Development and estate manager Piet Bosman hosted a tour of Du Toit cherry orchards.

On the fourth day of the Conference, the delegates had a very memorable visit to the Boschendal Wine Estate. Beneath the trees, we enjoyed a fabulous picnic lunch with Altus Prins and Dirkie de Vries from Direct Produce Supply (DPS) who have been an invaluable contact for Charlie and the Committee in planning this memorable 50th anniversary Conference. Following our lunch Jacques du Toit who joined Boschendal 4 years ago explained the farming philosophy operating at Boschendal. After lunch the delegates visited a new plum orchard; planted in August 2016 on a twin row trellis system. Jacque believes it is possible to 'break even' in year 2 with this system using new varieties from America. His whole philosophy is driven by planting the latest new varieties with large fruit in intensive tree systems in (of course) top quality soil. In fact Jacques said 80% of the new American bred varieties are exclusive to Boschendal in South Africa.

On the Friday 3rd March we began to wind down the itinerary with a (slightly) more leisurely visit to SAPO and Hillcrest Berries, before heading back to Capetown and our flight back home that evening. ‘SAPO Trust is a plant improvement organisation established in 1974. SAPO Trust's mission is to develop a comprehensive range of virus-free plant material that can be supplied cost-effectively to the fruit industries in South Africa. The company pioneers variety development and the commercialisation of new fruit varieties in South Africa.’ Danie, from SAPO, organised us into tasting groups for evaluation of a number of apple, pear and plum varieties.

Following the visit to SAPO Trust, we travelled to Hillcrest Berries for the final visit. Hillcrest Berries, situated between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and settled on the side of a hill, is clearly not the easiest of plots to farm but they have an incredible range of varieties of soft fruit and their own jam factory. Today Hillcrest offers a multitude of fresh, frozen and processed berries of all types. Along with all the classic favourites; Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries.

Alex Myatt