Dragon fruit: a highpotential crop with value-add possibilities
Farmer's Weekly|May 07, 2021
In need of a crop to boost his profits, Western Cape grower Louw de Wet began experimenting with dragon fruit. Despite initial production challenges, he was soon convinced he had found a winner. De Wet spoke to Jeandré van der Walt about his production methods and the opportunities he wants to explore with the fruit.
Louw de Wet

Louw de Wet joined the family farm Retreat near Robertson in the Western Cape in 2010 after completing his bachelor’s degree in agricultural administration at Stellenbosch University. The business consists of four production units, of which 150ha are under permanent plantings. They produce apricots and peaches for the canning industry, wine grapes for two local wineries, quinces and pears for the export market, and citrus fruit.

“At that stage, some of our farming sections were no longer that profitable. We needed to start looking at new crops that would put us in a better position,” recalls De Wet.

They investigated possibilities such as almonds and blueberries, and then in 2015, De Wet stumbled upon dragon fruit.

“I started researching it, and then received a prophetic confirmation that gave me enough conviction to begin farming this fruit.”

ESTABLISHING THE ORCHARDS

In January 2016, De Wet planted just under 50 dragon fruit cuttings in planting bags underneath a net structure behind his house. When the saplings grew too big, he transplanted them into larger containers.

In 2018, he laid out his mother block of 0,7ha, and then systematically began adding more cuttings, initially procuring dragon fruit cuttings locally, but eventually importing plant material from the Philippines.

At first, he trained a few plants up single posts 3m apart in the row and with an inter-row spacing of 4m. Later, however, he converted to trellis-based T-bars and decreased in-row spacing to 1m. This resulted in a density of about 2 500 plants/ha.

Today, he has approximately 4ha under dragon fruit of different varieties. According to De Wet, the planting process is simple, but soil preparation is important.

‘THERE’S VERY LIMITED INFORMATION ON LOCAL PRODUCTION, AND THE PUBLIC IS LARGELY UNAWARE OF THE FRUIT’S HEALTH BENEFITS’

“Dragon fruit is quite adaptable to different soil types, from sandy to loamy soil. But it doesn’t like clay soil.” Instead, he explains, it prefers well-drained soil, ideally with a high level of organic material.

“And the golden rule of dragon fruit is not to plant it too deep.”

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