How Driaan Vlok hits the Peach and Nectarine market 3 weeks earlier!


The early fruit catches the export market. Early ripening and harvesting means better profits for fruit both on the local and export market.
From an article by Steve Mc Veigh in Farmer's Weekly, December 4, 1998

Mayglo ready for the market!

A little bit of late October rain did absolutely nothing to dampen the high spirits of fruit farmer Driaan Vlok of Remhoogte, Riebeek Kasteel. He has taken the industry by surprise by nearing the end of his harvesting season when others are just beginning!

Remhoogte is well known for its early fruit for the export market. It is one of the areas of the Western Cape which is well ahead of most others as far as export fruit and grapes are concerned. Riebeek Kasteel is generally some 18-21 days earlier than the remainder of the industry - depending on the climatic conditions prevalent for that season. And the financial benefits of early ripening of fruit for export purposes are obvious. The north facing slopes of farms in the region give the best results and the earliest fruit. So do the north facing slopes of Remhoogte. This gives Driaan Vlok the edge over other farmers in the Cape, in that he can get his fruit on the market before most others do so.

This year he was nearing the end of his harvest as others were only just beginning! On average, harvesting and packing of Mayglo nectarines for the local market usually begins not earlier than week 45, says Driaan Vlok. Harvesting of fruit destined for the export market begins in week 46. The harvesting of peaches usually begins a week later. In a warm year this may be earlier. In a cold year this may be later, for instance 1998 was a cold spring year and posed problems (mostly of an export income nature) to Mr Vlok. The problem, says Driaan Vlok, is that when one experiences a cold spell, the plant's metabolism slows down and, if the spell is cold enough and long enough, development may be completely arrested. It will take three to four days of warm weather to get the trees growing again and this is valuable time lost! It is also valuable money lost because the earlier fruit reaches the overseas market, the better the prices they command. Furthermore, it is important that your fruit reach these markets before your competitors, be those competitors local or from other southern hemisphere countries.

This season the cold is not a problem. No growth or ripening time has been lost because of the cold weather. And that is entirely due to a trial he ran on green beans planted during the recent Cape winter. Beans, says Driaan Vlok, are generally planted in the summer. However, being the thinking farmer he is, he plants beans when other farmers are generally not producing them - during winter. That means he gets better prices on the market during the 'off' season than during the 'on' season.

Mayglo ready for harvesting

An agricultural products specialist from Aspen, Colorado (USA) and now living in Cape Town, Trevor Nelson, approached Driaan Vlok to test a new product called Yield-Plus. This is an organic plant solution, based on a derivative of L-cysteine which enables plants to tolerate certain types of stress for longer periods than they would otherwise be able to. This organic protein occurs naturally in plants and causes the plant to produce proline which enables the plant to cope with stress situations - much the same as adrenaline helps humans. Push up the levels of L-cystein and you push up the levels of proline. And, if this is done at the right time, i.e. when the plant is in a stress situation, the plant will cope with stress more efficiently than it otherwise would. The result is that plants treated with Yield-Plus tolerate stress caused by excessive heat, lack of moisture, or slow growth caused by cold, more readily than those not treated.

Treated plants can still cope and do not immediately invoke the primitive defence

mechanisms such as the shedding of flowers, fruit, or the slowing of metabolic processes because of short-term stresses which could retard growth, reduce fruit load and subsequent yield.

In the case of Driaan Vlok's 3,5 ha of beans, it was winter cold that was the 'stress' factor. Production is usually in the region of 12-14 t/ha in the summer and around 8 t/ha in the winter. The experimental use of Yield-Plus on the beans resulted in stronger growth, regardless of the cold winter temperatures; bean vines that were larger and more healthy than usual; plants which bore over a longer period of time, and which gave a production of not 8 t/ha but 14 t/ha; as well as giving beans with a higher quality and larger size. The result was better production all round and a better market price. This year Remhoogte's winter beans realised an average of R7/kg on the Cape market, a price considerably higher than usual!

Driaan Vlok was so impressed with the winter bean trial that he decided to use Yield-Plus on his nectarines, peaches and even on his table and wine grapes. The nectarines were sprayed with Yield-Plus shortly after full bloom (week 31). Fourteen days later (week 33) a second application was given. Fourteen days after that (week 35), a third application was given. The Yield-Plus applications were given along with the standard disease control sprays. In all three cases only 400 ml of Yield-Plus was applied per 1000 litres of water. The recommended dose is 600 ml/ha, says Trevor Nelson of Yield-Plus, but Driaan Vlok achieved excellent results even with the slightly lower dosage.

Count 20 De Wet peaches

Much the same applied to the peach sprayings. The peaches were sprayed with Yield-Plus shortly after full bloom (week 33). Fourteen days later (week 35) a second application was given with a third application given a further fourteen days later (week 37). Once again, in all three cases only 400 ml of Yield-Plus was applied per 1000 litres of water. The recommended dose is 600 ml per ha and, once again, excellent results were achieved even with the lowered dosage.

The results still have to be analysed in their entirety at the end of the season, but the fact remains that Remhoogte have been able to begin packing their nectarines and peaches three weeks earlier than any other producer in the Cape, regardless of the cold conditions that prevailed during the early spring, thanks to an innovative, new and fully organic nutrient.

Commenting on Yield-Plus, Trevor Nelson says the new product is a valuable plant stress relieving tool for sophisticated and foreword thinking producers who can use it as a stress-overcoming tool and integral part of a good cultural program. Proper cultural, fertilisation and disease control practices should be in place. It will not enable the plant to do anything it is not genetically capable of doing but will help a plant realise its potential under harsh conditions or normal to extreme stress.

This is no 'miracle drug' says Trevor Nelson and is no substitute for good agronomic practices. Nevertheless, it is a valuable new tool to use under conditions of stress and even poor management. A good preventative programme gives better results than a curative one.

Applying the product a few days before the plant is likely to encounter stress conditions is better than waiting until the plant has suffered stress because, in the latter case, the plant will have already suffered the consequences of that stress and recovery will be more difficult. A carefully planned spray programme during the early phases of production, i.e. from flowering to fruit set, is important to help plants through stressful conditions. Because of the action of Yield-Plus, root and foliage growth is also stimulated as a side effect.

Looking at Yield-Plus in the whole milieu of the local and international trade of 'green' fruit, produce, grain, timber and fibre, the new product can only be of benefit in that it is a totally natural, organic product (registration pending). L-cysteine is an amino acid protein which occurs naturally in plants. When applied to plants as a spray, it causes the level of proline to increase in the plant which the plant produces itself giving the plant a greater natural stress control tool. When that stress period passes and high levels of proline are no longer necessary it breaks down into its converts naturally to glutamine which is a plant sugar which ends up in the fruit, giving a higher level of sugar in the fruit itself. The benefits of the earlier ripening of produce and the improvement of fruit size and quality has economic benefits also, whether that produce is being marketed locally or internationally.

Another benefit can be found with table and wine grapes, says Driaan Vlok. Wine grapes, for example, go through the most stressful period of the production cycle about two weeks before harvesting. At this time, usually February, stress results in reduced acid levels and an increase in the pH of the berry juice. This is not ideal.

Winemakers want a low pH and high acid. Through the use of Yield-Plus around October to November the previous year, the grapes ripen earlier, allowing the farmer to harvest his grapes ahead of the stress period and giving his winemaker the best quality grapes he can muster.

As far as Driaan Vlok is concerned, regardless of the cold spring conditions which prevailed during the early spring, he achieved a high quality, more uniform sized fruit, even earlier in the season than during a warm spring year which surpassed his expectations.

At the time Farmer's Weekly visited Driaan Vlok he had already surpassed any previous packout record and was achieving maximum progress on the local market. Fruit packed for export was also of a consistently higher quality than ever before.

Mayglo showing good size and uniform ripening