1: The people behind Heystek Farm Produce and its relatively new banana farming enterprise are (left to right) Riaan Heystek, his wife Lizelle, and his brother WJ. LLOYD PHILLIPS
A visit to the operational nerve centre of Heystek Farming, situated in the Pongola area of northern KwaZulu-Natal, reveals a highly organised and diversified farming operation that is clearly the pride of brothers Riaan and WJ Heystek. There are fields of irrigated sugar cane and green peppers, citrus orchards, banana plantations and cucumber tunnels.
2: Left: a sucker that has been selected to be the next mature banana plant. Middle: a mature banana plant that is yet to produce fruit. Right: the cut stem of a harvested banana plant that initially provided valuable nutrients to the middle plant while young.
3: The flower petals and leaves of the mature banana plant partially protect the fruit from sunburn.
Their father, Willie, established Heystek Farming, but today focuses on managing the farm’s finances, while Riaan and WJ run the operation. In addition, the pair manage a separate entity, Heystek Farm Produce (HFP), which they established in 2013 to farm mainly jam tomatoes.
Bananas, which the brothers first planted in December 2019, are HFP’s latest enterprise.
“We chose bananas because we know they grow well in Zululand’s subtropical climate,” explains Riaan. “They’re also very popular among fresh-produce hawkers. For years, we’ve been supplying our other fresh produce to local informal traders. We have a good business relationship with them, and they told us they’d be willing to buy our bananas.”
Riaan and WJ ploughed out the sugar cane fields closest to HFP’s ripening rooms and packhouse so that future banana harvests would not have to be transported far to these facilities. Bananas bruise easily, so the less they are handled, the less risk of the consumer ending up with unappealing fruit.
In addition, the soil of the ploughed-out sugar cane fields has a relatively high clay content (between 25% and 40%), a beneficial soil organic carbon content of 2% to 3%, and high water-holding capacity. Banana plants do well in such soil conditions.
MAKING A GOOD BED FOR BANANAS
“After harvesting the sugar cane, we let the field stand for approximately four weeks,” says WJ. “During this time, we irrigated it lightly to enable the sugar cane leaves to regrow so that we could apply glyphosate herbicide to the young plants.
“The glyphosate, which is systemic, kills whole sugar cane plants as well as any weeds growing in the fallow field before bananas are planted.”
The dying plants were then disced into the soil using a disc harrow. The decomposing plants helped improve soil structure and provide organic nutrients for the banana plants. Discing was followed by a subsoiler to loosen any compaction down to a depth of 600mm to improve aeration and moisture dispersion within the soil, and to enable the roots of the banana plants to grow unimpeded.
The soil was then disced again, and this was followed by a power harrow that created a fine soil tilth. The tilth was necessary for the important root-to-soil contact needed by the banana seedlings once they were transplanted into the field.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Twin studs for double success
According to this father-and-son team, who did well at both shows and sales, listening to judges was as good as attending a cattle-breeding course.
How climate change is fuelling the spread of invasive pests
Due to the impact of climate change, plant pests that ravage economically important crops are becoming more destructive and posing an increasing threat to food security and the environment. International co-operation in fighting this problem is required, according to a scientific review by the International Plant Protection Convention.
Nguni stud farming in the Suuranys Mountains
Andre Hamman and his wife Maritha moved from Pretoria to retire to the coast. But instead of gardening and golfing, they took on a mammoth restoration project and built a mixed farming and tourism business anchored by a Nguni stud. Wouter Kriel reports.
An overview of South Africa's barley industry
Unfavourable weather conditions, improved canola cultivars and alcohol bans have all added to the woes of South Africa’s barley producers. Absa AgriBusiness looks at the industry’s future prospects.
A natural approach to healthier crops
Integrated pest management has become an increasingly popular means of protecting crops against damage from pests such as weeds and insects, and is being driven by, among other factors, the growing resistance to a purely chemical approach to crop protection. Annelie Coleman spoke to several experts to find out more.
Management of important grain diseases
Plant pathology scientists Dr Gert van Coller and Dr Bradley Flett spoke to Pieter Dempsey about some diseases that pose significant threats to South Africa’s maize and wheat production, and how to control them.
Finding a solution to agriculture's skills gaps
Skills development is vital to the growth and productivity of any business. Jeandré van der Walt reports on how various commodity organisations are providing the agricultural workforce with more skilled workers.
Overcoming food safety fears in Fukushima after nuclear disaster
A new generation of farmers in the Koriyama area of the Fukushima Prefecture in Japan have been teaming up with like-minded foodservice businesses to rebuild the image of the local area.
SA anticipating highest maize exports since 1994
The highest maize exports since 1994 are on the cards for South Africa, according to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz.
SA agricultural exports set to reap the benefits of the global economic recovery