While this year’s citrus harvest is nearly something of the past, only a handful growers in this fertile basin continue to grow potatoes. This is on account of the Kouga Dam’s levels standing at a low 5% and growers earning in dollars with the export of their citrus.

Plaas Media’s recently attended Potatoes South Africa’s (PSA) roadshow stopover in the Gamtoos Valley, which is home to three villages, namely Loerie, Hankey and Patensie.

The roadshow was hosted at Padlangs Padstal in Patensie where JF van der Merwe, PSA chairperson, Willie Jacobs, chief executive officer, and Hein Oberholzer, chief financial officer, convened with local potato growers to give a rundown on some key developments and projects within the industry.

Among these are the current statutory levy period coming to an end in 2023, opportunities for transformation and employment within the potato industry, and, importantly, the needs and demands for the cultivation of potatoes in the drought-stricken Gamtoos Valley, where the true pick-and-shovel work behind the scenes is not always seen.

Read another PSA roadshow article here.

The conversation was presented in such a manner that an informative exchange of ideas and dialogue was whipped up throughout the meeting. Another discussion was raised on potatoes being regarded as a vegetable in most well-paid ranks, while it is still considered to be an affordable starchy commodity in the poorer communities. Fast-changing consumer demands were also brought up and finding ways for the industry to adjust its marketing tools to effectively meet end users’ needs.

JF van der Merwe, chairperson of Potatoes SA, Hein Oberholzer, chief financial officer, and Willie Jacobs, chief executive officer.

Among the producers who attended the meeting, were Petrus Ferreira, who grows citrus and potatoes on the farm Nuwelande, and Pieter Ferreira, who farms in Patensie and tends to citrus, potatoes, and other vegetables. Pieter and Petrus both concurred that the gradual decline of potato production in their neck of the woods in recent years, can be directly attributed to the crippling drought which has led to a severe shortage of water.

The Kouga Dam currently holds about 5% water and waterholes have been drilled all over the valley – which is probably another cause for concern relating to surface-water depletion. According to both producers, the cultivation margins for potatoes in the Gamtoos Valley have narrowed down from approximately 3 000 to only about 100ha. It is, furthermore, not easy to acquire more land in the valley, where every inch of fertile soil is turned into citrus blocks. Moreover, citrus growers earn in dollars, which now makes it a more lucrative business than potatoes. – Carin Venter, AgriOrbit