Citrus farming, definitely worth looking into

Citrus farmer Issac Moilwa shares how we can go so much further when we go together

An old African proverb says if you want to go fast, you must go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together. The story of local farmer Issac Moilwa and his family is a testimony of exactly that. Issac first tried his hand at farming by growing sunflowers. In 2012, he formed a co-operative named Batlhako Temo Services with four other family members and started diversifying into citrus. 

Shortly after, the co-operative received funding and a chance to lease 61.5 hectares of land from the now North West Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Showing that opportunity comes to those who make the most of it, the family grew their production from 500 tonnes per year in 2012 to 1 700 tonnes by 2021. In 2018, they also started exporting, making the co-operative the first ever black-owned citrus producer in the province to enter the global market.

Issac explains that farming with citrus is definitely worth looking into because the average lifespan of a citrus tree is about 50 years if fertilised properly. The trees begin to produce fruit between their second and fifth growing season and continue for their entire lifespan. Simply put, if you look after a citrus tree, it will look after you.

When one considers that citrus is the largest fruit industry in our country, one can understand why Issac and his family ventured into this space. South Africa is also the second-largest exporter of citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons and grapefruit) in the world. Plus, the industry keeps on performing, in spite of the recent economic recession. Just in 2021, for example, our exports of Valencia oranges and grapefruit hit new records – increasing by 5% and 16%, respectively.

Citrus has its origins in the tropics and does not respond well to extreme cold, so the weather in our sunny Mzansi is no doubt one of the main reasons why our citrus industry keeps on shining. Currently, the Eastern Cape produces the most citrus, followed by Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. However, under the right conditions, with the right soil and enough water, citrus can be grown pretty much anywhere in South Africa. 

According to Issac, to succeed as a citrus farmer, you will need to form strategic alliances with experts who can walk the road with you and provide you with the right support at the right time. He explains that their farm had an issue with African bollworms, which could have disastrous consequences and potentially ruin their crops entirely. Issac reached out to Laeveld Agrochem whose technical consultant recommended the use of Corteva Runner™ 240 SC insecticide, which eliminated the pest completely. 

Whilst Batlhako Temo Services has had a journey to be proud of, the future looks even brighter. Some of their plans include building their own packhouse, expanding their export market even further, and becoming a leading producer of citrus both locally and internationally. “You do not need to know everything about the industry to become a citrus farmer,” Issac says. “You just need to make sure you have the right people, such as Laeveld Agrochem and Corteva Agriscience, by your side.”