Protea Farm – Bloom where you are planted
Over the last 30 years, Protea Farm in the famous KOO valley has been synonymous with tractor excursions up the Langeberg Mountain, beautiful farm accommodation and delicious potjiekos.
However, due to the icy cold winter climate, this tourism gem is also a working packhouse and fruit farm of 25 ha – consisting of pome and stone fruit, grown for the export market.
Owner, Pierre Burger is an inspiration to us at Delecta, and we are proud to have him as one of our producers.
We recently caught up with Burger to find out more about their farming production in the Klein Karoo and his secret to success in the face of trying weather conditions.
Briefly tell us more about Protea Farm and its history
Protea Farm has been in the Burger family since 1780, when my family came here from Lubeck in Germany. I joined my Dad, Niel Burger (81) on the farm in 1999, after a decade of working as an Electronical Engineer at Denel.
Although I’ve been at the helm of the farming operation for many years, I still value my father’s positive contribution, vast experience and ability to always make a plan.
My wife, Karen, is intricately involved in the business (both the tourist side and the farming operation) and is an invaluable support and spiritual inspiration to me and the team.
The farm (700 hectares in size) is about 30km from Montagu and lies +- 900m above sea level. Every now and again our farm transforms into a winter wonderland – with the entire farm covered in snow!
What philosophy do you base your farming operation on?
My philosophy is based on the following two principles:
- Always do your best, despite your circumstances
- “Don’t give up, look up”
What would you say are the key contributing factors to your success to date?
God’s grace and blessings!
But, the factors that I could control includes planting the correct cultivars for our area, using the latest technology available to minimise risk and guide our planning, and working with marketers who believe in teaming with producers.
We were also the first farm in our area to put up nets in 2017. It is a great success and has had a significant impact on our farm – we had hail last year and we were relieved that we had no damage. I am confident that we’ll put up more nets in the future.
The tourism and hospitality elements of our business have also been a great help with cash flow, as some years can be uncertain with smaller harvest yields.
Tell us more about the fruit you grow on your farm?
Fruit varieties include:
Pears: Bon Chretien, Rosemarie, PT and Forelle
Appels: Top Red
Plums: Flavor Fall, African Delight, Angelino and Autumn Treat
Apricots: Bebeco, Carmingo
We’ve been farming with pears and apples for the longest period. Pome fruit is actually the only fruit that is planted in the Koo. However, due to the water scarcity, I wanted a product which could be farmed more intensively with larger yield per cubic meter water. I believe we ultimately farm with water and sunlight! That lead me to plant plums in 2010 and then in 2012 I introduced apricots.
Any exciting developments that you’ve been working on?
The variety that I’m probably the most excited about is the Carmingo apricot, which I planted in 2012. Apricots are harvested from November to mid-December in South Africa. Carmingo is a French apricot and is only picked late January to mid-February. This gives us a big advantage, with little or no competition. The Koo valley is one of the few placed in South Africa where this particular variety will work, as they require very very cold winters and dry hot summers.
Over the last two years, I’ve also slowly been moving to more biological management practices, as I believe that chemicals will become less and less. Since 2009 we produce almost 100% residue-free pears for Nestle Purity baby foods in Germany.
What advice would you give less experienced, or even new, fruit farmers?
If you want to be successful, it has to be your passion. Never give up, never lose faith and trust in God wholeheartedly.
Don’t be scared to ask for advice – there are experts in every field who are eager to share their knowledge and experience. And then, in turn, share your knowledge with others – you can offer something that no one else can!
Always give life your all, we only have today – you never know what tomorrow brings.