Friday, February 3, 2023

Piquanté peppers: Labour-intensive, but worth the taste

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Sweet piquanté peppers originate from Central and South America, and belong to the Solanaceae family of nightshade plants. The import and export company, Strohmeyer & Arpe, describes it as follows: “The first truly new fruit to be launched on the global market since
kiwifruit.”

Botanically, chilli peppers are fruit and the sweet piquanté pepper shares the genus Capsicum with a number of chilli peppers, ranging in taste from mild to blisteringly hot. It flourishes in subtropical climates, and is mainly grown in Mpumalanga and the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Read more about chicory production in South Africa here.

Peppadew branding

Peppadew International (Pty) Ltd processes the fruit of sweet piquanté peppers, known by many as Peppadew, for the local and international markets. FarmBiz visited their manufacturing plant in the township of Nkowankowa outside of Tzaneen in Limpopo, and spoke to Wikus Joubert, agricultural manager at Peppadew.

“Peppadew contracts commercial and emergent farmers to grow the product at a fixed, predetermined price and under very specific conditions. It includes traceability of the fruit source and very stringent food safety requirements that all producers must adhere too.”
Joubert mentions that a contracted producer is supported by a full-time extension officer, who visits the farm regularly to assist the grower on relevant matters. “These services are rendered free of charge and the produce is unpreserved, which is often a condition of our clients. Therefore, the plants are regularly tested for unwanted residue or other chemical substances.”

One of their producers, the Bufland Group in Limpopo, believes that it pays to be on the production team of Peppadew International. Bufland’s spokesperson and grower, Rian van Wyk, together with Joubert, provided FarmBiz with some insightful information.

Planting and soil

Joubert: Planting commences in spring and continues until November of each season. The plant is tolerant to a wide range of soil types. It will tolerate fair levels of salinity in the soil, but a sandy to clay loam soil at a pH of 5,5 to 6,5 seems to suit the plant best. The water requirement is around 8 000m³ per hectare, preferably under drip or centre pivot.

Van Wyk: At Buffelsfontein, planting starts in mid-September. A rotational farmland system is in place to steer clear of Phytophthora root rot. Ensuring that the calcium (Ca) level of the soil is correct is paramount, as the quality of the peppers relies greatly on the amount of calcium in the plant. Cattle manure, at least 25 to 30t/ha, cultivates the soil, adding microelements to it, while preventing nematodes from damaging the plants. The compacted soil is then deeply tilled and the seedbed prepared. The amount of fertiliser applied, depends on the
recommendations made after a soil analysis has been done.

Read more about this cane sugar alternative here.

Diseases and pests

Joubert: Piquanté peppers are sensitive to Phytophthora capsici, a water-borne fungus. With high rainfall, excessive irrigation and/or poor drainage, the fungus can cause serious damage to the crop. Other less serious leaf- and fruit-borne diseases are Alternaria and anthracnose. As far as pests are concerned, contamination by fruit fly can cause serious damage to production. Other pests such as thrips and bollworm
are easier to control.

Van Wyk: Hand-planted piquanté peppers are planted and watered as soon as possible after delivery. Cutworm and hairworm insecticide are applied at the same time. We will normally plant 16 700 plants per hectare, with a 2m width between the rows. Root stimulants are applied, as healthy roots are key to the success rate of our plants. Leaf samples are taken regularly to ensure that the plants absorb all the necessary elements, including fertiliser. Supplements are applied in the form of leaf spray, as well as small quantities of nitrogen (N) to prevent the plants from becoming too rangy. The amount will increase significantly at a later stage to meet the plants’ needs.

Control of pests and spraying should be carefully considered and planned, fitting in with the prescribed withholding periods. Fruit with evidence of chemical residue will not be accepted at the factory.

Find out more about South Africa’s extensive fynbos industry here.

Correct temperatures

Joubert: The produce is suited exclusively for summer production. Although it is a perennial crop, it only flowers until the minimum temperature drops below 13–15˚C, after which it ceases production.

Van Wyk: The piquanté pepper is a tough plant and fares well in moderate climates and warm summers. Day temperatures at Buffelsfontein vary between 28–36˚C, and in extreme heat the plants are irrigated to minimise damage. The greatest challenge in such conditions is that the fruit shrivel, which can lead to downgraded produce.

Production and harvest

Joubert: Piquanté pepper production is labour- and cost-intensive. Drier to temperate and mildly subtropical conditions with temperatures ranging from 12–35˚C are ideal. A single crop takes eight to nine months to reach maximum production. The crop is, however, sensitive
to extremely high temperatures and frost.

A fair crop of 25t/ha may require as many as ten labourers during the peak of the harvest, taking place from January until June of the same year. As picking and deseeding is done by hand, the growing demand for the product has created numerous jobs in the field and more than
1 500 in the factory.

Van Wyk: The fruit must be picked timeously – when it is mostly red without showing any damage. If picked too early or late, poor grading will lead to income loss. The Bufland Group manages its farm workers’ productivity with a hands-on approach, by ‘clocking’ each crate that is filled. The number of peppers picked are measured within the required quantity expected for the day.

Read more about the ancient grain teff here.

Processing steps

The process at Peppadew International involves removal of the seeds, processing and bottling.

Advice for future growers

  • Start out by planting smaller and manageable surfaces, to be able to manage the complete fertilising and spraying programme.
  • Piquanté peppers should not be the main source of your income.
  • The downfall of pepper farmers can be frost and also hail damage, during the fruit bearing stage in particular.
  • Negotiate a contract with a strong financial and established company, such as Peppadew International. – Carin Venter, Plaas Media
Plant Plant information
CropPiquanté peppers
Botanical nameCapsicum baccatum var. piquanté
Plant habitUpright-growing bush: Height 1–1,5m x width 1,5–2m
Fruit shape and colourShape: Globular to round/blocky Colour: Light green to dark red
Pungency (capsaicinoid content)Medium to hot (6–8mg/100g undeseeded)
Climatic requirements
Optimum day temperature range for growth24–30°C (±2°C) with absolute max temp = 35°C
Optimum night temperature range for growth18–20°C (±2°C) with absolute min temp = 15°C
Max temperatures30–35°C
Min temperatures13–18°C
Relative humidity (daily range)±50%
Flowering sensitivity to temperatures and daylengthSensitive
Preferred climate typeDrier, temperate to subtropical climate
Growing period required7–9 months to obtain optimum production
Sensitivity to frostSensitive
Production information
Soil typeSandy loam / loam / clay loam
Soil pH (H2O)5,5–6,8pH
Sensitivity to salinityMedium
Effective rooting depth50–80cm
FloweringContinuous flowering and fruiting
PollinationSelf-pollinated
Fruit development cycle8 weeks to 1st flowers, plus a further 8–10 weeks to fruit maturity
Days to maturity120–140 days
Harvest period3–4 months
PestsMainly: Nematodes, thrips, bollworm, false codling moth and fruit flies Other: False wireworm, cutworm, mites, aphids and whitefly Astylus atromaculatus beetles may be troublesome Leaf spots: (bacterial, Cercospora, Stemphylium solani, Septoria), early and late blight and powdery mildew
DiseasesViruses: Virus-tolerant Fruit: Alternaria external spot and internal mould, anthracnose fruit rot Roots and stem: Phytophthora root rot and Pythium
Physiological disordersInternal fruit spot (Ca deficiency, day and night temperatures and uneven watering).


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