Uitvlught Farm, Helderstroom

Uitvlugt is a 162ha farm with 42.6ha of apple orchards situated near Helderstroom in the Overberg district. The farm was bought in 2008 by the 138 members of the Uitvlugt Farming Trust with LRAD funding through the Department of Land Affairs. The beneficiaries are farmworkers from four farming units: Uitvlugt (21 beneficiaries), Lanzerac in Stellenbosch (5 beneficiaries), Wapadskloof in Grabouw (21 beneficiaries), and the bulk from Lourensford in Somerset West, (91 beneficiaries).

The farms are owned by the Uitvlugt Boerdery Trust, of whom the beneficiaries are again the four workers trust mentioned before. Today, 12 years later, there are 138 beneficiaries. The Trust has a five-year management agreement with Karsten. The Karsten Group assists the management of Uitvlugt Farm with technical mentorship and also pack and sell the farm’s fruit on their behalf. Cobus Nel from the Karsten Group is the mentor to the management at Uitvlugt and works closely with management in the planning and implementation of farming activities.

Hans Kouter is the Production Manager at Uitvlugt as well as Vice Chairman of the Uitvlugt Farming Trust and is originally from Uitvlugt. Copido Koker is the Assistant Manager at Uitvlugt and is originally from Lourensford in Somerset West. Both Hans and Cupido are beneficiaries of the Trust.

“Water has been a big problem for us some years ago and we did not have enough water for all our orchards,” explained Hans. “We bought a pump but this could not provide enough water to irrigate all the orchards and the orchards suffered damage last year. We eventually managed to irrigate the orchards because we have removed 18 hectares of the oldest, least productive orchards to ensure that our other orchards have enough water. We also have a pump in the river that has helped us. We now also have water from the mountain and we have managed to improve our irrigation systems to be able to irrigate all our orchards adequately. We would like to build a storage dam but we do not currently have the funds.  An additional problem is that the water from the mountain is relayed via an asbestos pipeline which is already 30 years old and needs to be replaced as soon as possible to ensure the water supply is sustainable.”

Many of the orchards were originally established from seedlings as the farm used to include a nursery and were originally planted as fruit for juicing. These orchards have considerable variations in bearing and generally lower yields. “Our orchards are old and many of them were planted in 1989,” says Cupido. “We were able to plant 5ha of Royal Beaut apple trees and 12ha of Packham’s Triumph pears as a result of the Hortgro tree project and these trees are bearing well for us.”

“Since we were identified as recipients of the Jobs Fund project we have planted 5ha of Royal Beaut in 2016 and 3ha of Packham’s Triumph in 2017, says Hans. “In 2018 we did not plant but did soil preparation and therefore could plant a further 18ha in 2019. We then planted 20 181 apple trees consisting of Granny Smith, NIVV, Big Bucks, Rosy Glow, Cripps Red, and Royal Beaut as well as 9 859 pear trees made up of Forel, Abate Fetel, and Packham’s Triumph. The Jobs Fund provided all the soil preparation as well as the infrastructure for the orchards. We had to supply the labour to implement this and cover the cost for the labour.

Currently, we have 18 permanent workers (all beneficiaries of the Uitvlugt Workers’ Trust), make use of 10 temporary workers throughout the year, and 56 during harvest.  This will increase as soon as the trees start producing.  Housing for temporary workers on Uitvlugt is however a worrisome problem.

“We are concerned as we realise that we will need to find additional funding to cover the cost of planting and establishing our trees. The actual wages only form part of the cost as we have to transport workers in from Somerset West and also rent accommodation locally to house them during the week. We are trying to access a loan from the Land Bank and if this is not successful, we will need to borrow funds for this from a commercial institution.”

In 2019/20 a total of 20ha new apple and pear orchards were planted. As all the old orchards were removed, Uitvlugt now consists of 42ha orchards all younger than 10 years. The 20ha young trees are of good quality and should produce within the next three years. Uitvlugt has enough water to plant another 50ha, but needs funding to do so.