Crop and currency projections for 2013
What are the crop and currency projections for Rooibos Ltd for 2013? Says Rooibos Ltd’s Managing Director Martin Bergh: “Living in an arid region we have our issues with low rainfall, unpredictable rainfall patterns and the inevitable dry heat of the harvest season. Looking at the carnage caused by superstorm Sandy, I am happy to be living where I am. We live on the edge of a desert and are very worried about climate change. The long-term prediction is that our area is going to get hotter and drier. However, it has not happened yet. In the past 10 years we have had three below average rainfall years, three above average and four more or less average. This year, we had a very dry autumn and early winter which had everybody worried. Then the late winter and spring brought above average rainfall and very good planting conditions, particularly good spring flower displays and everything is back to more or less normal.

The early crop prediction for 2013 is that supply from the farms is going to be less than demand. This is as a result of low farmer prices which led to smaller plantings two to three years ago. More hectares have been planted as prices have improved. Hence, the supply situation will improve in two years’ time. For the present, there is still enough Rooibos in storage to meet demand but the upward pressure on prices will continue.

The other factor determining export prices is the strength or weakness of the Rand. For most of this year, the Rand has been stable to strong against most currencies. During the past month, there has been some weakness mostly driven by labour unrest in South Africa. However, as this subsides and Europe’s problems continue, the Rand may strengthen again. Who can read that crystal ball?

Green Rooibos production
Rooibos is processed in two ways, producing two distinctly different teas. Green Rooibos is processed in much the same way as the original Rooibos but without the fermentation process. Research shows that Green Rooibos contains even higher levels of antioxidants and anti-carcinogenic properties than traditional Rooibos. Rooibos Ltd has set up a special processing plant for Green Rooibos to process the product under optimal conditions to meet customers’ exact standards and to ensure a stable, high-quality product.

Clonal propagation of Rooibos for production and research purposes
This SARC funded project is about establishing protocols for the propagation of Rooibos through cuttings. Even though only one species of Rooibos, namely Aspalathus linearis, is used for commercial cultivation, there are huge genetic variations among the plants – even within one farmland. This makes it difficult for production researchers when they test the effect of specific treatments, as the plants have different characteristics in terms of yield and resistance to insects and droughts.

Hence, Rooibos Ltd’s Colette Cronjé manages the Cuttings Project which focuses on the propagation of Rooibos via cuttings in controlled conditions in greenhouses and the transplanting of the cuttings into a clonal mother block. This genetically uniform mother block will then be used for research and possibly also for researching the effect of genotype on characteristics such as resistance to drought conditions and diseases. Colette succeeded in establishing a protocol for the cultivation of rooted cuttings, and she hopes to finalise the protocol’s next step in 2013. The fragile cuttings need to be handled with extreme care. According to Colette, they are now investigating the impact of soil preparation, fungal treatment, nutrition, water, shade nets and best time to plant, on the survival rate of the cuttings.

Colette Cronjé, Quality Assurance Manager at Rooibos Ltd, with Rooibos cuttings.

Rooibos Ltd takes part in Green Chemistry Workshop  
Earlier this year, Johan Brand, Technical Manager of Rooibos Ltd, was asked to talk on behalf of the Rooibos industry at the launch of The Southern African Bioproduct Association, a body that will assist the Registrar of Act 36 of 1947. Various industries, producers, researchers, bio-control companies and the Department of Agriculture were present at this event. “It is crucial for Rooibos Ltd to support this endeavour in order to share information, to assist with research and to ensure that we do not use any chemicals that could endanger our industry. Rooibos is a South African product with a global export footprint. The use of any chemical or product that has not been registered could affect the entire Rooibos industry.”

Keeping farmers updated
Regular communication with producers is important to Rooibos Ltd. Recently, Rooibos Ltd’s Technical Manager, Johan Brand, and Managing Director, Martin Bergh, arranged meetings with producers in the Rooibos production area to share significant production information and procurement methods for the coming year. Says Johan: “We also focused on various forms of contracting in order to implement a traceability system for Rooibos Ltd. Therefore, our producers can now choose between term contracts, short-term contracts and spot contracts. We also communicated the importance of supporting the national Registrar of chemical substances to help gather the data they require for the registration of pest control agents.”