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Blushing success with apricots in the Koo

By Kara van der Berg

A relatively new apricot variety, Carmingo, has brought great success to farmers in the Koo Valley. Hortgro visited two of these farmers, Pierre Burger and Sam Sieberhagen, to find out more about the bicoloured apricots that not only have excellent blush but also have excellent eating quality.

Carmingo is a range developed and owned by the International Plant Selections (IPS) in Spain and France. The fruit has a distinct red colour and is bigger than the more traditional apricot varieties farmed in South Africa, like Babeco and Imperial. They are also known to have a better shelf life.

Pierre Burger

Pierre Burger is one of the first farmers to plant Carmingos.

Pierre Burger, whose family have been farming on Protea farm in the Koo since 1780, was the first to start farming these apricots in South Africa in 2012. Burger, who took over the farming business in 1999 farms with a variety of deciduous fruits, but he says that apricots are his favourite. “I am always on the lookout for new varieties. I guess it is my personality,” he says. That is why when he heard of the new Carmingo series that was developed in France, Burger got on a plane and flew to Spain to see for himself what all the fuss was about.

Sam Sierberhagen, who had mostly stepped away from farming, was drawn back into the industry after seeing Burger’s Carmingo apricots on the cover of Landbou Weekblad. Sieberhagen owns Leeuwhoek farm, roughly 11 kilometres away from Protea farm, in the Koo. Although he initially started with apples, he decided to shift gears and planted the first hectares of Carmingo in 2016. “When I saw these apricots, I just knew I wanted to farm with them,” he says. “They just flourish in our area.”

Unique climatic conditions

Though both farmers have had great success with the Carmingo series, they stress that it is only because they have unique and perfect climatic conditions for these apricots. The Carmingo apricots need high chill units. And the word “koo” means cold in Khoi.  “The Koo really is the sweet spot for this range,” says Burger. “The combination of cold winters, where we sometimes have snow, and dry summers, make it perfect climatic conditions to farm with these varieties.” Sieberhagen adds that the bigger the temperature difference, the better the colour of the fruit. “The lack of wind in the Koo is also beneficial,” he says.

Sam Sieberhagen

Sam Sieberhagen says they have perfect climatic conditions for Carmingo apricots.

Farmers in other farmers parts of the country, even those just outside the Koo, have not been as fortunate. “We’re the lucky ones who planted these new varieties and they work for us,” says Burger. Additionally, Carmingo’s are late varieties that can be harvested up to March, compared to the more traditional varieties that are picked earlier in the season. This gives them a competitive edge as they can hit the shelves when it is relatively empty.

Most of the Carmingo’s are exported as there is a big demand for them in overseas markets. They have been lucky as the Ukraine-Russia war has not influenced the apricot market too heavily as it has done with other fruit. Their biggest markets are Europe and the United Kingdom. On the downside, the logistics crisis at the Cape Town port earlier this year, was as unkind to these farmers, as it was to other farmers with export fruit.

Although both farmers have had success, the process of getting there has not been without its challenges. Burger says that there were a lot of unknowns at the start. “To get the trees to size was a bit of a challenge. Because the varieties were new, no one could tell us exactly what the trees would carry or what yield we would get.” Both farmers are considering putting their apricots under nets, mostly to protect the fruit from hail. Sieberhagen suffered a lot of hail damage last year, with one orchard having 80% hail damage.

Despite these obstacles, both farmers can be proud of the high-value export product they have cultivated. And in doing so, are showcasing South Africa’s sun-ripened fruit on the world stage.

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