The group is committed to the sustainable production of primary agricultural products in a manner that is not only economically viable and socially acceptable, but also environmentally sound.
Although the threats posed by climate change are well documented on a macroscale, less information is available to determine an appropriate response at the micro level. It appears that the occurrence of extreme climatic events and climatic variability are increasing. We mitigate these risks by diversifying our operations geographically and in terms of crop types, and apply appropriate technology to reduce water and electricity demand.
It is our goal to establish the group as a benchmark for good farming practice. Accordingly, we endeavour to employ best management practices in our operations to ensure agricultural production on a sustainable basis with a positive impact on the environment. We base our management practices on farming guidelines advocated by the Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) system and the SUSFARMS (Sustainable Sugarcane Farm Management System) system initiated by the South African Sugar Research Institute. Global GAP is an international best practice standard designed to minimise possible detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, promote responsible use of chemicals and ensure a responsible approach to worker health and safety. In all our operations, we aim to conserve and upgrade natural assets, maintain and enhance critical ecosystems and use agricultural resources sustainably. In order to achieve this, each estate draws up an environmental management plan (EMP) which is updated and audited every year. A forum of senior agricultural managers meets to evaluate global best practice standards and update and monitor the implementation of the EMP. The plans are estate and crop specific and incorporate programmes with the following elements:
Conservation of flora and fauna
Problem plants are categorised according to the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 1983. A number of the category 1 plants (problematic species) occur on our estates. The control process focuses on the initial reduction by uprooting, chipping for mulch, treating with registered herbicides and biological control, followed by repeated programmes to remove seedlings, root suckers and coppice growth. This is coupled with the rehabilitation of indigenous species in the areas that have had alien vegetation removed. Hunting is not permitted on any estates and poaching is controlled by security patrols. The maintenance of natural species and rehabilitation of indigenous species assist with conservation by creating safe and natural habitats for animals and birds.
Conservation farming is primarily aimed at improving soil health. Some of the specific techniques employed are:
- We allow a fallow period between uprooting an old crop or orchard and replanting with the same material.
- Chemical fumigation is limited, with environmentally friendly products used where possible.
- We perform soil analyses to determine the chemical condition of the soil and the quantity and type of ameliorants to be used.
- Soil cultivation is limited to the fallow period when we incorporate ameliorants (e.g. lime and gypsum) in the soil to the potential root depth. Unnecessary soil disturbance is therefore avoided.
- We plant green manure (fallow) crops to enhance soil health and fertility. Soils are rejuvenated and problem weeds controlled. The areas selected are where the soil has become degraded and requires increased organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility in order to consistently achieve good yields.
- We use inorganic fertilisers responsibly to satisfy the nutritional needs of the crops. Application rates are based on recommendations provided by established research institutions. We apply organic fertilisers in some instances as a means to increase the organic content of the soil.
- We implement green cane harvesting and trash blanketing where possible on the sugar cane estates, as this reduces smoke pollution, increases soil organic matter content, reduces water runoff and limits weed infestation.
- We lay out drainage and water carrying structures according to good agricultural practices and land use plans, thereby reducing soil erosion. We plant waterways with grass to slow down the flow of water.
- We apply mulch to increase the organic content of the soil, reduce moisture content fluctuations and maintain constant soil temperatures, resulting in better crop health, growth and quality. We use wood chips as mulch on the group’s fruit estates. The wood chips are derived from grubbed orchards, thereby reducing air pollution through burning old trees.
Application of agrochemicals and fertilisers
We take extreme care when applying pesticides, herbicides and fertiliser adjacent to natural watercourses to ensure that minimal pollution of water occurs.
Integrated pest management
We plant cane areas susceptible to eldana (stem borer) with tolerant varieties and cut these areas annually. The deciduous fruit farms have adopted an integrated pest management approach that complies with both Global GAP and Nature’s Choice standards as required by the European and UK retailers. Emphasis is placed on using biologically friendly products that are pest- and disease -specific.
A reduction in electricity consumption and associated electricity costs is the target of an ongoing project. Low energy pumps, variable speed drives, optimisation of irrigation systems, use of heat pumps instead of geysers and use of off-peak tariffs are methods used to reduce consumption and costs. The co-generation of electricity from cane bagasse may also offer opportunities in the medium term. We monitor, record and report electricity usage across the group.
On our irrigated farms, we are gradually changing from high water use systems to drip and pivot irrigation systems that are more efficient, as part of our continuous improvement programme. The increased use of probes to measure soil moisture as well as the interpretation of the results by irrigation specialists are resulting in a more detailed irrigation scheduling which also has a positive impact by reducing both water and electricity usage. We monitor, record and report water usage across the group.