Fruit company United Exports has highlighted the transformation of two traditional South African tobacco farms in Limpopo into sustainable blueberry-producing businesses under the OZblu brand.
Traditional and inadequate housing structures are making way for newly upgraded housing facilities on Waterberg Berries [close to Vaalwater] where OZblu estate manager Carel van der Merwe and his team had settled in just over a year ago.
“When I arrived here, there were no toilets for the farm workers, and most of the housing structures were in ruins,” says Van der Merwe.
Four of the original farms’ workers had stayed on the farm when Van der Merwe took over and together with 12 newly appointed permanent farm assistants they are busy renovating and upgrading the housing structures to provide upgraded houses and ablutions, incorporating solar technology for the staff and their families.
Van der Merwe says that they sold the traditional tobacco irrigation systems and kilns and replaced them with new fertigation equipment and systems that are suitable for blueberry production. Altogether 50 hectares of blueberries has been planted on Waterberg Berries at the beginning of this year.
In the same way that Waterberg’s location is ideal for blueberry production, so too is Metsi Berries, the farm of grower Eduard Pauer, a former tobacco, corn and popcorn farmer. He started planting blueberries on his farm, in collaboration with OZblu. Currently, he has 27 hectares of OZblu blueberry varieties growing under shade netting and still expanding.
“I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and into the fields,” says Pauer, who stopped all his tobacco operations eleven years ago because it was no longer feasible. He had to sell a part of his farm, as well as equipment to pay off tobacco debts after the corporation at Potgietersrus closed down.
He also had to lay off some of his workers when he started planting less labor-intensive crops. It was at this stage that he met OZblu founder and global CEO, Roger Horak, who convinced him to direct his energy to blueberries.
Metsi Berries now employs 45 people on a permanent basis. Together Pauer and his team are upgrading and renovating the accommodation facilities on the farm to also provide for seasonal workers during harvest time.
“We are in our second year of blueberry production, and we are convinced that we will see our investment grow year on year,” says Pauer.