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Morning session

The Intensive Growers Association (IGA) held its first biannual symposium for 2019 at Cedara college, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. The scheduled power outage at the venue did not stop the influx of attendees. The initial delay in locating a generator to run the projector for the presenters, did not discourage any delegate from waiting for the first speaker to take the platform, nor did the lack of early morning tea and coffees drive the crowds away.

After a 20-minute delayed start, the first speaker, Butch Aylward provided a brief introduction of Macadamia nut production in South Africa, titled “Macadamia development and opportunities”. Considering the increasing popularity of macadamia in global dietary preferences, several opportunities for South African farmers to upscale macadamia production has been created. He further went on to differentiate between tree nuts and peanuts (legumes). There are about 7 cultivars available for scaled up production. Successful macadamia growers need to consider irrigation regimes, timing of planting and type of irrigation system used Although South Africa is a leader in processing macadamia, there is still potential for more macadamia production, with most visible growth already seen in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Zambia and Malawi in Africa.

The much awaited speaker on Drone technology in the agricultural industry, Tim Wise was introduced by Jimmy Launsdale. Tim Wise is the CEO of precision agricultural technology. Drone technology has been used in the sugarcane industry for about 4 years now. Considering the big shift from Sugar cane to Macadamia production in KwaZulu Natal he highlighted the relevance of Drone technology and its application in chemical spraying. Drone application of chemical spraying has become useful in overcoming the challenges of land spraying of chemicals due to the terrain of many KZN farms. The use of Drone Technology in the sugar industry is legal as aerial

application in the sugar industry has been previously registered with the South African Aviation authorities, this however is not the case with other crop. However, the annual operational cost of Drone application is only 5% of that using aircrafts. This is a due to no fuel usage in drone technology. in addition to the lowered operating costs, drone technology has also created job opportunities within the sugar cane industry since operators need to be trained and licenced to control drones. Drone application of chemicals affords a farmer the benefit of applying precision solutions in the on farm operations.

Drone Technology has been developed and applied in Australia and China. However, the first world technology is not suitable for the KZN surgarcane industry at the moment with the Chinese products being most user efficient for KZN. Drone application of chemicals allows for uniform, controlled application as human error is omitted during the spraying. The coverage of the crop using drone application is close to 100% at all times, therefore reducing wastage of chemicals.

Since drones are controlled by a pilot on the ground, registration for its use can be done in the same as aircraft registration. The cost of using a drone is about R200 000. Licencing process needs to be followed. Tim Wise invited all guests to view a drone he brought to the symposium during the tea break.

Exhibitors 5 min presentation slot:

The four exhibitors, exhibiting their products were given 5 min each to present new products on the market:

Ichthys Aquaponics Justin (Midrand based): products and services for aquaponics

Jiffy Jules Kieser: Distributor of Jiffy products used in the horticultural industry. Products include:

Pallets and medium for propagation of rooted cuttings

Grow bags

Grower blocks

Microgreen plates

Pot strips


Flimflex Keith Hartl:

Blue tint plastic green-house sheets beneficial to recover plants grown into sun. Plastic Mulch widely used in Europe, it breaks down in 6 months since it is manufactured from corn starch

East Coast organics

Producers and distributors of organic fertilizers and product range used in the horticultural industry in the region

A fifteen-minute break before the next speaker could be introduced. Although it what would have been a tea break was a short juice break, delegates were eager to view the drone on display. The load shedding had very little effect on what would have been a time to fill up on coffee.

2nd session

Lindani Nzamandi provided a delightful overview of the training experience he was part of when he attended the ProManager Master course in Netherlands and Germany earlier this year. A cohort of fifteen young horticulturists from around the globe was part of this programme. A series of workshops and training sessions were planned around issues and challenges facing global horticulture and Smart solutions to ensure sustainable crop production. This afforded all of the participants an opportunity to network and identify new technology based innovations that would work for them to improve crop production. He attended workshops on technology based innovations and were there was discussions on how to efficiently transition to a more automated production system that is more technology driven.

He was introduced to a more data driven horticulture and crop control automate systems for climate based innovation using mobile sensor and application and algorithms. The trends in Europe is focused more towards data driven operations. Inputs of data to provide overview of production and yield prediction, artificial intelligence and its use in green house robotics. The use of geothermal energy for the horticultural industry was also discussed. Although technology development can have a positive impact in sustaining the horticultural industry in first world countries, this can be argued that it would be a difficult to have these models applied to developing and third world countries. As this also has negative socioeconomic impacts, such as the potential of job losses that would further increase the unemployment rate in these countries.

An overview of the tours he had done:

  • Drone technology in industry for the collection of data for climate within greenhouses – incubation phase in Germany
  • Wageningen university – programme to use fundamental of science in upscaling food production to sustain future food security business incubation projects – starter up projects needed in Africa
  • Attended fruit logistica exhibition provided an overview of latest German innovation in fruit production
  • Rijk Swaan – retail centre that provides a research space that tests customer preferences for different products

His conclusion was that SA in terms of automation is not far from Europe, however, the level of automation used in Europe need not e our vison for the African continent.

Speaker, Mike Kruger, provided a case model of the benefits of water sanitization of river water and runoff water using flocculation and Chlorination for use in nursery production. It is not arguable that clean water is necessary for intensive crop production. The best method to treat unclean water has always been the correct application of chlorination. Chlorine removes organic material from water, more organic material requires more chlorine to be added to successfully eliminate all organic material from a water. Organic material in water reacts with chlorines to produce chloramines, toxic to plants. Sodium hypochlorite is not the best source of chlorine for cleaning water as sodium in small amounts has been shown to be toxic to plants, calcium hypochlorite more appropriate. The pH of a solution influences the activity of chlorines. Chloramines are effective against algae and pathogens in water. Flocculation is the process that removes the organic fraction from water using aluminium sulphate. In the farming environment this can be in the form of purpose made powder. Calcium hydroxide can be used to quickly increase the pH water when adding aluminium sulphate to clean out organics from it. This can be added to water tanks, closed chlorination system can be used to rid pathogens from water. This system can be easily setup in any farming environment.

Justin Hess of (Ichthys Aquaponic farm) based in Gauteng provided an overview of the economics of aquaponics, and its viability in a changing economy. He emphasized the use of innovation as an added benefit to improving the profits with aquaponics. However, he recognized that the disruption is actually the “innovation dilemma”. Failing to change operating models has a negative impact on aquaponics. Adapting and remodelling the way one practices farming has positive implications.

Aquaponics itself is an innovative form of farming making since the 90s, it is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics and therefore can be classified as intensive farming. Hydroponics has been around since the 60s, which requires growing plants in soiless medium in nutrient rich water. Aquoponics uses 95% less water than conventional farming and has 30% lower operating costs than hydroponics because fish provide the nutrients for the hydroponic system. However, a number of aquaponics initiatives fail largely because operating costs are too high. However, to be successful one needs to focus on the revenue model. The revenue generated from plants produced should be the core income, and the income generated from fish farming should be considered an added bonus. He also observed that 90% of the aquaponics farms in SA grow tilapia and lettuce production, it is important to consider other choices. Avoid farming a single crop, crop rotation is unlimited. However, research needs to be done in terms of crop ad market needs. Focus on finding and applying innovative methods to farming practices.

Simple steps can improve the efficiency and income of an aquaponics farm.

Rob Osborne, the final speaker for the day provided an overview of new developments in vermicast Although vermicast is not a new innovation, it has a place in today’s innovative approach to farming practices. The benefits of earthworm composting has a number of advantage, however appropriate management is needed. Use of worms for composting started in the 70s. Vermicast offers a sustainable nutrient rich compost for farming. The nutrient content of vermicast not much different to manure, however nutrients are more slowly released in vermicast. It has been shown to have high microbial and enzymatic activities, and a number of studies have shown that it boosts plant production especially for organic growing medium. Vermicast can provide a 10 to 20% increase in yield and growth. It has been shown to regulate plant growth hormones and supress plant diseases, and offers a mechanism of induced resistance. In 2018 trials for Eucalyptus and vegetables were conducted. Vermicast provided similar yields as application with osmocotes.

3rd session: Symposium tour

After a light lunch and great networking, interested delegates were invited to visit the Topcrop nursery, where Mike Kruger showed us his water storage and water purification system as described in his presentation.

Delegates were also able to view their seeding operation where trays are filled and their automatic seedling pot system.