Ivanhoe Farming Company

South Africa

My Danish grandfather’s brother, Alfred Sorensen-Vedel, went to South Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, so I have relatives there. After I received an invitation from my cousin, Morag Atherstone, I went to visit them and received great hospitality. Mark Atherstone, Morag’s husband, is a director of Ivanhoe Farming Company. I was very impressed by the company and Mark gave me permission to make a video about it and interview him. I also interviewed Albert Theron, who is a seed potato inspector at the Potato Certification Service.

The company is located in the Midlands of the KwaZulu-Natal Province and has two farms that cover about 9000 hectares.

The main enterprise is seed potatoes, which are sold to other farmers, who grow potatoes for the markets. The company grows seven varieties of different shapes, sizes and frying qualities, for specific requirements, such as crisps, table or French fries. At the peak of the potato season the company employs about 300 people, mostly women, for harvesting and sorting. Their work is often very strenuous as it involves picking potatoes and lifting heavy bags.

Healthy seed potatoes are very important for successful potato production. In South Africa a generation concept is used. Potato plants, that have been tested and found free of all potato pathogens, are planted in the first season to produce Generation 1 stocks. These stocks are then planted in the second season to produce Generation 2 stocks, and so on. Because the likelihood of disease increases with each successive generation, the certification scheme is phased out in Generation 8. Within each generation provision is made for three classes, Elite, Class 1 and Standard Grade, which represent the quality of the seed potatoes in respect of tuber diseases and appearance. The Potato Certification Service ensures that the planting material is multiplied according to certain specific requirements.

To ensure healthy seed potatoes are produced there is strict quality control. A seed potato inspector from the Potato Certification Service comes to the farms to take representative samples. He looks for disease and takes a sample to a laboratory for tests on the potatoes to check for certain bacterial diseases and viruses, before certification is confirmed. After certification each bag is issued with a label stating the generation, quality class, date of certification, cultivar and seed grower number.

The company has also a beef herd of about 3500 animals, mostly Red Angus type, which is a British breed. A beef herd is raised for meat production, while a dairy herd is used for milk production. After the calves have been weaned, they are sent to a feedlot where they are fattened and then sold to a slaughterhouse. Weaning is the process of gradually introducing a mammalian infant, either human or animal, to what will be its adult diet and withdrawing the supply of its mother’s milk. To cause less stress for calves at weaning, an anti-suckling device is inserted in their nostrils to prevent them from suckling, but still allowing them physical contact with their mothers.

The company also grows maize and trees, mainly Eucalyptus for wood chips, which are exported to Japan.