The thousands of tourists travelling by air to the Kruger National Park each year are offering a unique window of opportunity for the region’s international airport, whose owners have joined up with agricultural enterprises to branch out into the hugely lucrative macadamia industry.
An entrepreneurial spirit and a “think big” attitude has seen the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) diversify its investment portfolio to include farming macadamias.
While the investment potential of the macadamia industry is undisputed, KMI Farming is taking it to the next level by capitalising on the opportunities provided by tourists using the airport on their way to and from the Kruger National Park.
KMI Farming was first started in 2017 after the group bought a tobacco farm on auction right next to the picturesque airport outside Nelspruit.
The joint venture company is made up of three shareholders: ANB Investments, an agricultural investment company that markets and holds licences for various closed cultivars; L.A Visagie and Sons, neighbouring farmers; and MQP Agricultural Investments, which belongs to the same owners as the airport.
Marius Nel, the Chief Executive Officer at the airport, said when the opportunity arose to invest in farmland, they immediately met with the Visagie family who were farming macadamias and citrus nearby.
“We formulated a strategy that included macadamias and the highly successfully branded ClemenGold nadorcott mandarins owned by ANB Investments.
The farm now has 160 hectares under mandarins and 70ha planted to macadamia nut trees.
“Macadamias are highly profitable at the moment. But we are not naïve in thinking that the prices won’t reach a ceiling at some point, so we decided to hedge our risk by adding the citrus trees. With the ClemenGold mandarins the profitability is quite close to macadamias as these mandarins outperform any other citrus variety on the market,” Nel said.
The macadamia trees were planted in December 2017, in April and July 2018 and will be in production by 2023. The varieties include Beaumonts, A4, 816 and Nelmac 2. The cultivar combination was chosen based on carefully researched traits, he said.
Willem Kieviet, area manager for Indigo Fruit Farms (a division of ANB Investments) in Nelspruit, manages the farming operations for KMI Farming. He said the Beaumont variety were stable and delivered a consistent yield year in and year out. “The A4 and 816 has a lot of potential over the long term because the crackout is good and it can service the kernel and nut-in-shell market. Nelmac 2 will never drop you as the yield and crackout is always good,” Kieviet said.
The trees have been planted on ridges to better control the reach of the fertigation over the roots. The macadamias are planted at density of 313 trees per hectare, while the citrus orchards have 1 167 trees per hectare.
“This means that looking at the canopy coverage per hectare, macadamias require less trees to produce a crop. The nuts also have a lower water requirement so it is a safer investment than citrus when considering the possibility of water shortages and electricity costs to irrigate,” he said.
When comparing macadamia nut to citrus farming in the Nelspruit area, the climate requirements are very similar.
“The macadamia harvest is slightly earlier than citrus, so by the time we start harvesting citrus in middle May, most of the macadamias would have been harvested already. This means we can use the same temporary labour as we are using for the citrus; they would just be employed earlier in the year.”
Kieviet said in terms of farming practices there are few differences between the two crops, with only limited tweaks required on the farming equipment, for example, chemical sprayers.
Going one step further
Nel said the idea behind the farming venture was to diversify the airport company’s business operation. “The ultimate goal is to exploit the development potential of the whole area surrounding the airport. Currently it is mostly farmland, but the company is looking at creating tourism value on the farms,” he said.
KMI Farming aims to develop the whole valley along the R538 road leading up to the airport. Plans include converting an old tobacco store on one of the farms into a brewery and restaurant where they can offer products from their own farms using the mandarins and macadamia nuts. It is hoped these projects will take advantage of the tourists travelling through the airport and create an ideal stop en-route to the Kruger National Park.
KMIA’s passengers are 70% international and 30% business travellers, which Nel said
offered a whole host of opportunities to develop and market macadamia nut products in and around the airport.
“Internationally the demand for macadamias is high and reaching the ceiling in this market seems quite far off. This makes it an ideal crop to cultivate on our farmland and also to exploit in terms of products we can offer to our passengers as snacks or take home souvenirs.”
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