Success in the soil

Healthy soil, healthy trees, better crop, better profit.

Janus Boonzaaier has taken on quite a challenge. He’s planted 6,000 grapefruit trees west of Dimbulah. Despite what could only be generously described as “challenging” soils, his trees are looking spectacular 18 months in and heading for their first commercial crop, including an exciting new grapefruit variety, Sweet Sunrise. We caught up with Janus and his offsider Jacob on a sunny autumn day to chat about his efforts.

“These soils are tough. They have a Cation Exchange Capacity of just 1.4, a pH of 3.8 and are almost exclusively sandy loams that won’t hold much water,” Janus says, as we stand among his young trees. “This farm was used for a long time for tobacco, right up to the 1990s, and that can be tough on soils that weren’t great to start with. We knew we had to invest the time to improve the soils from the outset, and then manage them carefully to get the best results.”

You wouldn’t know it looking at the trees. At just a bit over 18 months old, they’re where you’d expect a 2–2 ½ year tree to be at.

Janus uses multiple automated probes across his 18ha orchard to monitor soil pH, EC and temperature as well as an on-site automated weather station to monitor local conditions. He uses an irrigation system with controlled dosing meters to ensure the exact fertiliser ratio, and then field tests regularly to check his trees are getting just what he expects.

Janus moved to Australia with his family four years ago. “I came from the Western Cape region of South Africa where I managed table and wine grape orchards. There we had cold winters and very dry summers, so coming to terms with the Dimbulah climate has been a learning curve. The country looks similar, however.”

Read the full article in the June 2023 Gulf Croaker.

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