Papaya Production: A Delicate Balancing Act
Farmer's Weekly|October 09, 2020
Papaya production poses few challenges, says Mpumalanga-based papaya producer Giovanna Secco. But with high volumes and unstable demand, farming the fruit requires careful management to ensure that the crop remains profitable. Lindi Botha reports.
Lindi Botha

Born in Australia of Italian descent, Giovanna Secco settled in Low’s Creek in Mpumalanga with her family in the 1970s, joining a number of Italian families in the area. When the Seccos arrived on the farm, papayas were already in production, although they were known as pawpaws at that time.

“Interestingly enough, pawpaws are actually a completely different fruit. What we know as a pawpaw is actually a papaya, although somehow the pawpaw name stuck,” says Secco.

Today, Secco is one of the last of the original Italian immigrants, and their operation has grown considerably. She and her family procured farms as they came up for sale, and not only expanded papaya production, but pioneered the macadamia nut industry in the Low’s Creek area as well.

DIFFERENT VARIETIES AND SIZES

The first varieties planted on Kudu Farms were of the Hortus Gold variety, which had male and female plants that needed to be planted together for cross-pollination. As the farm has modernised, so too have the varieties that have been planted, and these are self-pollinating. Today, the farm produces red-fleshed papayas stemming from the Tainung and Sun Rise Solo varieties, with fruit ranging in size from 400g to about 1kg.

When the Seccos started farming, they planted papayas in orchards on their own. Later, when they established their first macadamias, they implemented intercropping. The papayas are removed when the macadamias are approximately four years old, so soil preparation adheres to the requirements of the macadamias. Both crops, nonetheless, benefit from this preparation.

Prior to establishing the orchard, the soil is ripped and ridged; the macadamias are then planted down the middle of the ridge and the papaya seedlings are planted on both sides, forming a double row. Kudu Farms has approximately 200ha of producing papayas planted at a density of about 1 600 trees/ha.

From the time the papaya seedlings are planted, there is a 12-month wait for the first crop. Thereafter, the trees keep producing throughout the year, with only a slight dip in yield from January to March due to the lower temperatures in the previous six months.

“The cold weather stunts growth and they don’t develop at the speed they would in summer, which means there are fewer flowers and less fruit. Over a year we harvest between 70t/ha to 100t/ha,” says Secco.

Low’s Creek has an ideal climate for growing papayas, with temperatures ranging from an average minimum of 10°C in winter to a maximum of 35°C to 38°C in summer. Secco says that rainfall is important in the hot months and the area receives between 550mm and 800mm per annum.

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