Balancing risk to build a table grape brand
Farmer's Weekly|January 21, 2022
When the Beukes brothers expanded their table grape farming operation from the Hex River Valley to Brandwacht near Worcester in the Western Cape, they had no idea of the challenges this would bring. Jacques Beukes shared some of the lessons they learnt with Wouter Kriel.
Jacques Beukes

We know how to farm table grapes in the Hex River Valley. Our family has been doing it since 1913!” says Jacques Beukes, as he sits in the boardroom of the packhouse on Modderdrift farm in Brandwacht, on the outskirts of Worcester.

Modderdrift is a relatively new acquisition: Beukes and his brother Eugene bought it in 2016 simply to increase the size of their operation. Very soon, however, they faced a series of unexpected problems, each of which had to be faced and solved.

“We bought the farm and embarked on developing it in a similar way that works for us in the Hex River Valley. But although they’re less than an hour’s drive apart, the two locations are very different, and we had to adapt,” admits Beukes.

As they had the opportunity to establish new vineyards here, they wanted a new cultivar that would give them a competitive edge. After a study trip to the US, where they looked at all the latest cultivars, they decided on Sweet Sapphire.

“We were excited about the unique presentation, fertility and excellent taste it offered,” recalls Beukes.

The brothers duly carried out pilot plantings of Sweet Sapphire in the Hex River Valley and the results proved promising. So, in 2017 they planted 20ha to the cultivar as part of the 60ha under table grapes on Modderdrift. Unfortunately, problems emerged almost from the start.

“We faced two challenges in Brandwacht: wind, and [the limitations of] the Sweet Sapphire.”

FAST FACTS

The Beukes family has been farming table grapes in the Hex River Valley for over a century, and in 2016, brothers Jacques and Eugene expanded the business by buying a farm near Worcester.

The new plantings came with many challenges, and the brothers learnt costly lessons along the way.

The Beukes brothers are always on the lookout for innovative solutions to solve challenges and improve business prospects.

WIND AND NETS

“In the Hex River Valley, we have wind in August, and that’s about it. We know how to farm with that. But we soon discovered that our new farm in Brandwacht experiences strong, gusting winds throughout the year. This was a particular challenge during the long, wet winters of the past few years. Abnormally strong and gusting north-westerly winds come with strong cold fronts, which have hammered us for the past few years,” says Beukes.

The wind damaged the young shoots, and growth was severely restricted. The brothers also realised that the fruit would end up bruised and its quality would suffer.

“One solution was to place the vines under netting. At that stage, we had no experience with nets; we’d only regarded them as a possibility for future developments in the Hex River Valley. But we soon realised that without nets, we wouldn’t survive in Brandwacht.

“Since our initial farm planning hadn’t included nets, we had to make compromises and work fast to cover the vines in 2017. The blocks were too large as they hadn’t been designed for nets, so the overhead cables ended up too long. This in turn meant that tension on the cables was too high, which resulted in damage during strong winds.“

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