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Are You Nuts? The growing trend towards vegan and vegetarian diets

26 Feb 2016

nuts on a tree

A top prediction for 2016 is that vegan and vegetarian foods will be trending. There are several reasons for this, including a desire to be healthier, green ethics, and aversion to the slaughter of animals. 

With the rise of the gym brigade over the last 25 years, wider scientific dietary studies, and the phenomenon of the Internet – information and changing lifestyles are integrating at a level where people are demanding to know the content and origins of what they eat.    

All this bodes well for farmers (not to mention retailers and restaurants) who recognise the business potential in increasing numbers of people who care about environmental and health issues. 

The Nutrition of Nuts

This alternative food trend leads to valuable opportunities in the marketplace for wide-awake producers. Apart from the obvious growth in the demand for vegetables, there is also opportunity in corn, soybeans, seeds and nuts. 

Despite dire predictions that vegans would collapse from lack of proper nutrition, the opposite seems to be the case. Nuts and seeds are healthy and nutritious. They are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre, essential amino acids, and possess various chemicals that may even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. Nuts are low-calorie food that is also high in healthy fats. 

Opportunities for South African farmers

South Africa is currently not a big player in the international tree nut market – even though it is becoming clear that local demand is outpacing production. In other words, we are importing a product that we can easily grow here and export to a growing international market. Pecan and Macadamia are the only tree nuts produced on a large scale in South Africa. Almond production through smaller enterprises does not meet local demand. 

We are importing: almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts from the USA; Brazil nuts from Bolivia; cashew nuts from Vietnam, India, Mozambique, Tanzania and Brazil; and hazelnuts from Turkey. This should give farmers some idea of how fast local demand is growing. Local supply capacity is predicted to double within the next two years – a scenario which leaves South African farmers open to opportunity. 

Drawbacks that need to be overcome: not enough process infrastructure to encourage investment; high cost of establishing orchards; long turnaround time on investment (cashews for instance, can take about seven years to become fully productive). 

Despite this, the high demand internationally for almonds and cashews cannot be overlooked. And the Western Cape in particular, is good for almond production. It’s interesting to note that the National Development Plan singled out the nut sector as one of the smaller, more labour-intensive industries that could carry considerable expansion and job creation potential.

The Netafim Way: growing nuts with drip irrigation

Rainfall in South Africa is not always sufficient for the requirements of nut trees, and sourcing additional irrigation is almost always necessary. In the case of pecan nuts particularly, the water requirements are higher than any other nut fruit. Drip irrigation has proven the most effective and cost-efficient way to establish orchards. However, there are important aspects to consider:  

  • The best system in the world will fail if there is poor land preparation or poor plant material is used.
  • The infrastructure and operation of the irrigation system must be well maintained.
  • Water source, availability, quality, delivery and filtration must be examined.
  • Soil potential must be carefully observed with regard to depth, texture, water-holding capacity, chemical or physical limitations, etc.
  • Crop needs must be studied regard to seasonal and peak water demand, water sensitivity.
  • Surface or sub-surface drip irrigation can be used, starting with a minimum of  two drip lines that can go up to four, depending on the type of nut  grown.

At Netafim we are constantly innovating our already excellent range of products – and honing our farming knowledge. We stand ready to assist farmers to bring both orchards and opportunity to ripe and ready bloom. Find out more at:

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