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Dragon fruit farming


Dragon fruit farming

Category Farming

Bright pink (or yellow) with a slight resemblance to the happy union of a dinosaur and an evening dress, the dragon fruit - also called pitaya - is an exotic fruit of which production is growing in South Africa.

Although it may look at home in the neglected garden of a Karoo town old-age home, the dragon fruit cacti are native to tropical South and Central American countries but commercialised in Vietnam, the world's biggest producer. In South Africa, about 300 ha of dragon fruit farming is planted in warm areas with a rainfall of between 400mm - 1 500mm/a.

Start with adult plants that will bloom and fruit in the first year and plant in rich and well-drained soil. Protect from frost, over-watering and intense sunlight.

It grows up to 4m in a season therefore trellising systems need to be installed before planting. Choose the pole method (reinforced concrete or wood) with four plants per pole or a trellis system similar to vineyards. Planting density varies from 1 500 to 3 000 plants/ha.

Dragon fruit can bloom and fruit up to four times per year. The aromatic flowers bloom from about 18:00 to 09:00 and are pollinated by moths and bats. The flowers produce up to 100g of pollen - hugely beneficial for bees - which provide additional pollination services.

Pests and plagues include mealybugs and ants, scale insects, slugs, stem rot, fungal infections and fruit fly, for which it is a host. Monkeys and rodents enjoy ripening fruit.

In South Africa, dragon fruit is harvested in the summer months, a little more than a month after pollination. The sugar level of white-flesh varieties increases late in the growing season and must be harvested a week later than the red-fleshed varieties. Bruising easily, dragon fruit is picked by hand, then washed and graded. The leathery skin is easily peeled and the nutrient-dense fruit is eaten fresh, in salads, smoothies and used in more than 50 processed products.

'The yield range from 18 - 30t/ha and a single fruit can weigh between 500g and 1kg.

The price varies from R28/kg to R200/kg in local markets (January 2022). Taking into account that a plant can last up to 25 years, the long-term potential to supply the hungry local market is huge,' says Max van Heerden of Dragon Fruit South Africa (DFSA).

Dragon fruit is easy to grow but costs to establish plantings can range from R 65 000 to R 150 000 per hectare. "This depends on the area and the style of planting (density/ha). For example, farmers in the Lowveld and KwaZulu-Natal where wood is abundant may require less capital for trellising," he added.

New farmers should buy self-pollinating, mature plants free from Xanthomonas campestris at reliable nurseries or exporters.

For advice and technical information, contact Max van Heerden on 082 856 9925.

Author Marinda Louw Coetzee, Agri journalist
Published 07 Mar 2022 / Views -
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