Higher input costs such as labour and agrichemicals have been the dominant feature of South Africa’s agricultural sector over the past year, increasing at an unprecedented rate with little sign of slowing down.
These input cost pressures have taken the farming industry to a tipping point. There are many factors contributing to the problem; supply constraints in critical fertiliser-producing countries, rising shipping costs, increases in oil and gas prices, higher global demand for agrichemicals and the scarcity of available labour. The situation has worsened dramatically as result of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine
South Africa imports 70-80% of fertiliser used in agriculture, as a result, the lack of international availability and the cost increases are having a direct negative impact on the producer’s bottom line. As International prices have hit record high, the contribution of fertiliser towards production costs is now between 30% and 50%, resulting in a significant impact to profitability and sustainability.
Despite the costs, fertiliser application is essential. Nitrogen, for example, has a major effect on yield and quality and is an essential nutrient that helps promote new shoot growth, flower bloom, and fruit development. To ensure a consistent, quality crop with a high yield, it simply has to be used.
A further challenge faced by Cluver farms is the variability in tree size and foliage. With the variance being so extreme across the orchard, the current practise of spraying or fertilising the block as a whole only increases variability. Being able to precisely dose trees that require growth and ignoring those that do not, allows the orchard to grow uniformly, making yield much more predictable.
Karin Cluver, of Cluver Farms adds: “Using precision agricultural techniques, precision fertiliser application, and, or foliar sprays,will allow us to manage the spatial and temporal variability, optimising production and increasing revenue.”
In response to the rising costs and risk to profitability, Karin knew she needed to take action to ensure they were efficiently using both chemicals and labour resources, thus a project was formed to test precision dosing of agrichemicals. The project team consisted of Karin and Jacques from Cluver Farm, Outfield Operations engineer Dylan Henstock, Agrimotion Consultant Mico Stander and James Reid from Red Ant Spray systems.
Karin used Outfield’s proprietary platform to create custom drone flight plans allowing her to capture data across the orchard in under 30 minutes. Outfield processed the data as it was uploaded and returned fruit loading and tree size maps, pinpointing both where the fruit was loaded across the orchard and the size of the trees. These maps were then provided to Agrimotion who, adding satellite data, were then able to make recommendations on agrichemical input and create compatible files to be used in the Red Ant variable rate Sprayer.
In a matter of days, the team headed out to one of Cluver’s Pink Lady orchards to see the system in action. Jacques, the farm manager had prepared the sprayer and tractor prior to arrival and once there, the only job left to do was load the precision map and the driver was off.
The maps were interpreted perfectly, the sprayer switched on and off when required with a high level of accuracy.
In previous years, due to the difficulty and time consuming nature of collecting data to cover the block, the entire orchard would be sprayed; a costly task in terms of labour, chemicals and fuel. This year, using the insight from Outfields Maps, Agrimotions recommendations and the Red Ant machine, Cluver Farms have saved 52% on fuel costs, 51% on labour costs, and 53% on the cost of agrichemicals.
In addition to significant cost savings, this greater level of insight into the entire block has enabled Jacques and Karin to have a greater understanding of variability across their orchard, share the data with confidence amongst staff members and make management decisions accordingly.
Half the time. Half the cost. The whole picture.