RSSC has been growing cane since 1958 in the northern lowveld of Swaziland, with total estate under cane being 21 620 hectares. Ten percent of the estate area is replanted annually to ensure that yields do not decline below non acceptable levels. Replanting is carried out under guidance for purposes of ensuring that all farming practices minimize soil compaction.
The farming of sugarcane is carried out in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner in a semi-arid environment where the average annual rainfall ranges between 600 and 700 mm and is received mainly from November to March. The rainfall is normally high intensity, short duration storms that generate a lot of runoff, resulting in less than half of the rainfall effectively contributing to crop growth. With crop water requirement in this area being 1 450 mm per year, the balance of the water required is supplied through irrigation.
RSSC still remains among the largest single estates in the world that rely on subsurface drip irrigation for their sugarcane. By the end of 2011, 47% of the area was under sub-surface drip irrigation while 2.4% was under surface drip. The balance of the area is under furrow, sprinkler and center pivot systems. The effort in this direction was driven by an intent to use water wisely and increase yields to above 10 tonnes of sugarcane per Ml of irrigation water, and reduce fertilizer losses through leaching and washing away.
The drip system also allows for fertilizer application resulting in refined and precise application of fertilizer to the roots, thus minimizing leaching and washing off of fertilizer into nearby rivers and streams.
The Precision farming techniques being implemented at RSSC are bearing fruit in minimizing field compaction through traffic zones, which promotes good soil health. These techniques also ensure that efficiencies are improved which in turn reduces the amount of energy that RSSC consumes when carrying out its farming practices. The area that has seen drastic improvements in efficiency enhancement is drip installation which has increased yields over the same areas through the introduction of high yielding varieties and improved gearing.
All these farming practices are supported through robust programs that are developed, tried and tested either through internal research trials that are conducted by the Technical Services Department or the Swaziland Sugar Association Technical Services team as well as information obtained from the South African Sugar Research Institute or through benchmarking.
The Technical Services in RSSC has a state of the art accredited laboratory that does not only provide services locally but also to external growers. The samples that are received are not limited to growers in Swaziland but come from as far north as Malawi.
Harvesting sugarcane is still done by hand and a move towards cutting un-burnt cane (green cane harvesting) has been going on at RSSC for a number of years, and are nearing perfection in order to ensure reduced carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere.
The RSSC average yield per hectare was 106.2 tons at 2011 and still rising. The objective is to achieve yields that are in excess of 113 tons while ensuring cost effectiveness. A sucrose yield of 15.2 tons per hectare was achieved last year and this figure will be exceeded through the program targeting increasing efficiencies and improved varieties.
The Agriculture Division’s responsibility also extends beyond the RSSC boundaries in that it also ensures that all growers that grow sugarcane outside RSSC (Outgrowers) continue to remain sustainable through a locally developed model that has seen the growers develop in many ways. All the farms have seen a turn-around through the program such that the Swaziland Government has also passed on to RSSC the management of a fund for the farmers that would ensure sustainability of the projects. This program has also enabled indigenous Swazis to participate effectively in the sugarcane growing industry and benefit communities through poverty alleviation.
RSSC has made assistance available to Outgrowers in areas including farm management, sugarcane growing, irrigation system maintenance and repairs, land preparation and harvesting at modest rates.