With about R140 000 000 in funding from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and SA Canegrowers, a 3ha plot of certified N36 seedcane was planted up in April outside Pongola by the region’s small-scale growers and the association’s regional staff.

SA Canegrowers’ Regional Manager Theuns Theunissen said the certified N36 seedcane – which should yield about 120 tons a hectare – would not only boost yields and the quality of the crop produced by the small-scale and land reform farmers affiliated to SA Canegrowers in Pongola, but offered another revenue stream as the seed would be in demand by commercial growers as well.

Tom Fortmann, from the South African Sugar Research Institute who was responsible for the oversight of the seedcane plot development project, and commercial grower Jesaja Strümpfer, first tested the soils, which was followed by soil preparation in March this year.

Once the soil types were established the 3ha plot was cleared of all vegetation.

The weeds were allowed to re-grow for about 10 days before being sprayed with herbicide.

Fine seedbed preparation followed before furrows were drawn to receive the seedcane.

Land used for planting certified seedcane should lie fallow for at least a year before it is planted up.

Small-scale grower Mbukeni Zephania Nyembe was able to offer 3ha on his farm, adjacent to his 10ha of land under sugarcane.

Certified seedcane of the variety N36 was bought from the Umhlatuze Valley Sugar Company’s Dover Farm outside Empangeni and trucked to the Pongola site. A hot-water treatment plant has also been built to ensure a secure future supply of certified seedcane in Pongola.

SA Canegrowers’ regional manager in Pongola Theuns Theunissen said the certified seed was not only rare but would be in demand from commercial growers as well in the region.

Seedcane cut from the project will be made available to small-scale growers of the Isivuno Sugar Co-op at no charge. Commercial growers will be able to buy from the project, generating an income stream that far exceeds that of crushed sugarcane.

Theunissen said the development of the plot also offered an ideal opportunity to train the small-scale growers in field preparation and planting methodologies.

With planting perfectly timed in April – when temperatures are ideal for germination – by the first week in May the seed cane was already showing vigorous growth and optimum germination across all the rows.