Fruit production: Fruit farming is a long-term investment

It usually takes more than 4 years before new fruit orchards yield commercially viable crops. Entering this sector should, therefore, be planned well. Here are some factors to consider.

Fruit farming can be profitable and rewarding because fruit is essential to the human diet. But it is a highly competitive market, and good entrepreneurial skills are needed to ensure success.

It’s also an expensive investment that takes a few years to reap profits.

Several factors, should therefore, be considered before starting:


The physical and chemical properties of the soil at the envisaged site should be determined before planting, as soils can vary considerably.

  • Certain fruits, such as peaches, don’t grow well in dense clay soils, whereas pear trees are much more clay-tolerant.
  • The nutrient content of the soil, as classified by soil analysis, will determine how much fertiliser will be needed to ensure optimal fruit tree growth.
  • The water-holding capacity of the soil determines the quantity and frequency of water required.
  • Water used to irrigate trees should be of high quality.
  • Fruit trees aren’t very tolerant of saline (salty) water.
  • About 8 000 m³ water will be needed, per season, for a 1 ha orchard.


  • Deciduous fruit trees shed their leaves in autumn, as soon as temperatures become cooler, and enter a period of rest called dormancy.
  • The trees need sufficiently cold temperatures, or winter chilling, during the dormant period.
  • The minimum air temperature then should be between 2.5°C and 12.5°C for 850 to 1 000 hours, from April to August.
  • Trees remain dormant until they have been exposed to a specific quantity of winter chilling and will only bloom again once temperatures rise in spring.
  • Areas prone to frost are less suitable for fruit production as a cold spell or late spring frost would injure flowers and fruit.
  • Frost damage is not usually easy to see on the outside of blossoms or small immature fruit and only becomes visible when fruit start dropping off the trees.


Fruit farming can be grouped into stone fruit (such as peaches and apricots), pomme fruit (such as apples and pears), citrus (such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit), subtropical fruit (such as bananas and papayas), and exotic or alternative fruit (such as pomegranates and figs). Viticulture is also in the fruit-farming category – for table grapes, wine grapes or raisins.

Deciduous fruit trees have different chilling requirements. Apple trees, for instance, will not bear fruit if planted in an area where winters are mild. So it’s important that the choice of fruit to be grown in a particular area be determined by how much winter chilling there is.

Pollination occurs when the pollen (male part of the flower) is exposed to the female parts (stigma) of an open flower. Some fruit trees bear only female flowers (and need pollen from a tree that bears male flowers); others bear male flowers only, or both male and female flowers.

It is important to know whether a fruit tree, or a specific cultivar, is self-pollinating or needs cross-pollination. Some species can set fruit without cross-pollination; but most need to be cross-pollinated for a good fruit set.

Most fruit trees consist of a rootstock, the graft union and the cultivar (scion) on top. To ensure that a good crop is produced, it’s important to purchase only grafted trees from a known or registered nursery.

Contact researchers at South Africa’s Agricultural Research Centre’s Infruitec-Nietvoorbij before deciding what kind of fruit to plant.


  • It would be unwise to plant fruit trees on a large scale without taking available markets into consideration.
  • Fruit is harvested close to maturity, but the fruit should still be firm enough to be transported.
  • As fruit bruises easily, transporting the fruit on poor roads will cause financial losses.
  • Suitable packing and cold storage facilities must be available in order to ensure good fruit quality.


The first golden rule in fruit production is to secure a market before you plant the trees.

Don’t plant and then try to find a market. You should decide whether to sell the fruit locally or to export. And market research is essential, as well as determining your market profile.

The needs of the market/public/clients have to be taken into account. Try to find a gap in the market. For example, if there is a demand is for dried figs, but nobody is supplying it, there will be a gap in the market that needs to be filled. But it’s important to ensure that the need for the product is big enough. It would be unwise to sell produce in order to fulfil the needs of only a few consumers.

The next step is to establish which farmers or countries are your competitors. Competition isn’t necessarily harmful to your fruit-farming enterprise, but if it is unique, you’ll soon have competition, especially if it’s also profitable. So obtain as much information as possible about your competitors.

Production capacity and the farmer’s competence as well as that of his workers must be considered if the prospective fruit-farming enterprise intends to produce good-quality fruit. In other words, the farm must have enough staff who have the production and financial skills needed, as well as the appropriate equipment, to produce the fruit species successfully.

Production capacity and sales operate in close association; the business cannot sell more fruit than it’s able to produce during a certain period.


Fruit plays an important role in the human diet as it is a source of fibre, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins A, C and E. Fruit such as peaches and apricots contain vitamin A, and citrus, nectarines, strawberries and kiwi are rich in vitamin C.

Avocados are an excellent source of vitamin E. Fruit also contains important nutrients such as potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc. Important anti-oxidants, such as carotene and anthocyanins, are also contained in fruit.

Also read:
An introduction to growing cherries
Kaolin clay – sunscreen for your fruit
Select the right site to plant your wine grapes
Get the right rootstock for planting grapes
The basics of pruning grapes
Tips for soil and vine management for your grapes

  • This article was written by Odette Beukes and Chris Smith and first appeared in Farming SA.

Contact ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij +27 (0) 21 809 3100 or visit their website.

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