It’s harvesting season for a South African staple: butternut.  Farmers all over the country are harvesting their crops, getting them into the stores and if they’re lucky, they’ll be as healthy and plentiful as Stefanus Otto’s butternuts from his farm, Bushveld Organics, in Waterpoort. The average yield for a butternut squash harvest in South Africa is between 30 – 35 tons per hectare, but Mr Otto’s saw a yield of over 97 tons per ha this year, a South African record. So, what is so special about this farm and this farmer?

The problem

After many years of using heavy chemical programs with red label products, the soil on the farm became almost barren. Unsatisfied with this, as any farmer would be, and to ensure the health of his farmlands, Mr Otto decided to move to a more biologically friendly approach, one that would improve soil health and create a better environment for the growth of crops whilst at the same time establishing a healthy ecosystem in the soil. In 2018 Bushveld Organics began using realIPM products in their fields, at first only on certain blocks, increasing the number of hectares year on year, until this season (2022), where the amount of chemicals used was almost negligible in comparison to biopesticides.

“Ek het n goeie agent wat kosbare inligting met my deel”

- Stefanus Otto

The solution

The realIPM strategy implemented on Bushveld Organics, along with cover crops (sorghum – the third cut is mixed into the soil thereby increasing the organic matter in the soil), their own brand of compost as well as their own bacterial-fungi mixture, showed incredible benefits to not only soil health but crop yield too.

Kade Bayes from realIPM recommended that Mr Otto include PopUp and NanoCal to his biological soil programme (which includes Real Trichoderma, SeaBrix, Real Fulvate and Real Humate). In addition, when powdery mildew became a problem, a combination approach was used to effectively deal with the disease which included a reduced quantity of chemicals, combined with Real Trichoderma and Real Bacillus. The overall result was a harvest three times greater than the normal. Kade explains that farming butternut, using chemicals only, whilst battling something like powdery mildew, cause the butternut plant to shut down and eventually die – whereas the approach taken at Bushveld Organics allowed for 16-17 rounds of harvest, and the plants overall life cycle was increased to seven months. The plants stayed healthier for longer and produced for longer. A healthier soil supported a healthier plant – which enabled this blockbuster harvest.

Global opportunities

For Mr Otto, moving to the realIPM strategy and using more bio-friendly farming methods has not only increased yield, but has also opened many doors for Bushveld Organics, including additional contracts (due to low or zero residue) and getting first pick at market due to the superior-quality product.