Almenkerk Wine Estate is a small, family-owned estate, situated in the Elgin Valley just east of Cape Town, South Africa. The estate is owned by the Belgian/Dutch van Almenkerk family and run by Natalie and Joris van Almenkerk. Hence, the name of the estate. The van Almenkerk’s moved from Belgium and purchased the property in 2002. The Estate was originally 32 hectares of apple trees, and they now have 17 hectares of vines in production and 9 hectares of orchards (four varieties of apple and one of pear).
What is your farming philosophy?
Almenkerk’s focus has been on improving soil health over the last couple of years and therefore, practices such as planting cover crops between the vines and orchards have been implemented. “We are slowly increasing the carbon in our soils by increasing the organic matter on top of the soil surface. It is challenging to find new ways to balance having healthy soils and earning a living.” The van Almenkerk’s also believe in having healthy relationships with their employees and part of their farming philosophy is to keep on creating new employment opportunities. “The vines will always be hand-picked and tenured by people.”
How did you get started with FruitLook?
When they first started farming at Almenkerk, technology like NDVI, electromagnetic scans, full climate and soil studies were used before planting. Therefore, they did not think twice to try FruitLook after being introduced to it by someone from the fruit industry a few years ago. “We have always been keen to try new technology.”
How do you use FruitLook and/or integrate it into your everyday actions and decision-making process?
“We are very high-tech on the vine side but have no moisture probes in the apple blocks and are still digging a hole in the soil to determine the moisture. It has been working well. And that’s where FruitLook comes in. We can actually check how well we are doing by tracking the evapotranspiration deficit with FruitLook.” They aim to keep the deficit below 5 mm. “We don’t use FruitLook to schedule our irrigation; we use it to check if we are irrigating properly.”
Joris started using FruitLook for only a few blocks but is now using it for all their blocks since last season. He checks the past week’s FruitLook data every Friday morning and will then discuss it with Michael. “We also like to compare the current season’s data with that of last season.”
Are there any stories of how FruitLook helped you in a specific situation?
A couple of years ago, Joris noticed that one part of a block was under-performing even though it was managed and irrigated uniformly. “FruitLook helped us to identify a higher and lower section in that block, something that we were not able to see in-field.” The issue was resolved by splitting the irrigation into two sections and irrigating each section accordingly.
Joris van Almenkerk (left) with the farm manager, Michael Keown (right).
What is the biggest benefit of FruitLook for you?
“FruitLook is a great tool to check how well our farm management is working.”
What would you think would be the biggest improvement in FruitLook?
Joris would like to add tags or notes to the graphs. “Last season, flowering started in October, while this season, flowering already started in September. If one could add little tags on a graph to indicate the start of flowering, the data would make more sense when comparing the different seasons with each other.”
Bi-weekly instead of weekly updates of the biomass production and the water parameter data would be a great improvement for them. “It would also suit us better if data is uploaded on a Sunday afternoon rather than on Thursday evenings. This would help us to plan better for the upcoming week, plus, if you discover an issue on Friday, you can’t always fix it until Monday.”
What are the best channels to work through to spread the word about FruitLook?
Joris says that most producers form part of various agricultural forums, and these forums are a good place to introduce FruitLook. Michael added that a demonstration at a Farmer’s Day of a case study where FruitLook was used to resolve an issue would work well. Joris also suggested trying guerilla marketing. “Go to shows where they sell tractors. There might be unexpected interest.”
How can FruitLook be used in the context of regenerative agriculture and/or climate-smart agriculture?
Joris believes that one should replace biomass that has been removed. “We take away the biomass during harvesting and if we cannot replace what we took away, then regenerative agriculture won’t work.”
He also says that increased production to remain profitable is not possible without using more water. However, it is possible to use water more efficiently and FruitLook can help with that.