McCain brings ‘Farms of the Future’ project to SA

Multinational frozen food company group McCain will be developing its second ‘Farms of the Future’ project, a farm focused on sustainable regenerative farming practices, near Litchenburg in the North West province. This follows the launch of the company’s pilot farm project in McCain’s hometown Florenceville in Canada in 2020.

Mark Du Plessis, director of agriculture at McCain South Africa, says the project will kick off on July 1, with the first potato crop expected to be planted in August.

The group says the farm will include a total of 465 hectares (ha) under irrigation and 90ha dryland, on which it will grow 125ha of potatoes per year.

“It will focus on enhancing productivity, while prioritising soil health, water efficiency, the reduction of agro-chemical impacts and the introduction and preservation of biodiversity.”

Read: There’s a place for big and small farms in securing SA’s food supply

Du Plessis says the regenerative agricultural farm, which will operate as an ecosystem, will primarily cultivate potatoes on a four-year sequence involving the rotation of potatoes, radish, winter crop mixes, maize, soybeans and wheat.

This, according to Du Plessis, will rid the soil of transmittable diseases and will encourage farmers to avoid using chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

The group says the location in South Africa is the second out of three farm projects that McCain intends to open across different regions around the world by 2025 and is part of its plan to implement regenerative agricultural practices across all of its potato acreage by 2030.

Read: ‘Too many people, not enough food’ isn’t the cause of hunger and food insecurity

“We’ve got a good base of knowledge and experience in terms of the feasibility, and that makes this project a good start for us in South Africa,” adds Du Plessis.

The company says its pilot farm project in Canada had a successful first year in terms of results and for setting guidelines for future progress.

McCain says it reduced agro-chemical impacts by nearly 17% compared to a typical grower’s farm in the area, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser applications by approximately 2% while maintaining its yield.

The group says regenerative practices implemented in the first year of operations in Canada included mouldboard ploughing, fall bedding, cover cropping, green manure, animal integration and the absence of fumigation.

“The most challenging practices included livestock integration, rotational grazing, and the controlled traffic farming system.”

The group said active green plants and roots covered soils for an average of 181 days during the first year of operation while crop residues from these cover crops prevented soil erosion.

McCain said it will implement several new projects on the farm in Canada in 2022, including the implementation of employee safety programmes and installing drip irrigation powered by solar energy.

The group’s CEO Max Koeune says the Farms of the Future project aims to make the global food system more sustainable.

“The strain that global supply chains are under right now is shining a stark light on how exposed we are, with a food system that requires a radical transformation to address the challenges of our century,” says Koeune.

“The new farm will allow us to build a better understanding of regenerative agricultural practices, enabling McCain to work with our farm partners to reimagine the way we grow a potato that is better for both their farm and the planet.”

Read: Africa’s smallholder farmers must use both traditional and new practices

Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA (Agbiz), says the  conflict in Ukraine is putting pressure on South African farmers in terms of fertiliser prices, fuel hikes, the need to boost local production, extreme weather events, and rising electricity costs.

“Now is the time to focus on close collaboration and embrace state-of-the-art crop protection solutions and suitable and innovative agricultural practices to empower farmers to continue to feed our nation – while still being profitable.”

Nondumiso Lehutso is a Moneyweb intern.