Agricultural irrigation in South Africa: A Q&A with Cherry Irrigation

By Kasha Dubaniewicz on March, 24 2021
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Kasha Dubaniewicz

Kasha is passionate about high-impact storytelling and believes in making positive changes that will lead to a better and happier world for all.

Founded in 1987, Cherry Irrigation specialises in the design and implementations of agricultural irrigation systems. Cherry Irrigation is based in Grabouw in the Western Cape province of South Africa, but they service the whole country, as well as Namibia and Angola.

In our latest Q&A, we sit down with Tasha van Niekerk, Chemical Engineer at Cherry Irrigation, to discover more about the business as well as to hear about her experiences selling and installing Bluelab products in Southern Africa.

How long have you been working at Cherry Irrigation?

I have been working at Cherry Irrigation for just over a year now, taking care of our monitoring department.

What’s your personal connection to agriculture and growing?

For me, it’s my love for nature combined with the need to do something that matters. By working in agriculture, we are helping to produce food whilst being mindful of resources, like water, that we are using and the impact that we have on the environment.

I am an engineer, so I am also intrigued by the huge multivariable system that is agricultural irrigation.

Automatic drip irrigation at a soil-based farm

Tell us more about Cherry Irrigation. Where did it all begin?

Cherry Irrigation has more than 30 years of expertise in irrigation design and installation. We are based in Grabouw, South Africa, but have done projects all over South Africa and in neighbouring countries. We have an office in Namibia as well.

We have experience working with a variety of different crops in different media, designing undercover or open-field irrigation. Our goal is to provide state-of-the-art solutions to our clients.

How and why did Cherry Irrigation connect with Bluelab?

We recognised that, as the need for irrigation to be better managed grows, there is an increased need to understand and to measure. Therefore, we needed to find a supplier of robust and user-friendly monitoring equipment. This equipment is essential to start understanding resource usage and optimise water and nutrient applications.

And these tools aren’t just relevant to large-scale production, but to any grower.

What types of growers do you sell to? 

Anyone who needs monitoring equipment can buy from us. In the beginning, there was definitely a focus on large-scale, high-value crops, like blueberry farmers, but measuring or monitoring adds value for any grower. Now I sell to all types of growers: large-scale citrus and blueberry producers, nurseries and even small-scale hobby growers.

Two growers walk within a greenhouse

Have you noticed any changes brought on by COVID-19? Has this changed how and what people buy?

In general people bought less, especially during the hard lockdown in South Africa. But I think, as time passed, people actually realised the value of being able to monitor remotely, especially during this time. So, there was definitely a shift to the controllers and monitors that could be accessed offsite and generally a higher degree of interest in automation.

What’s your favourite Bluelab product and why? 

Oh, that is easy! The Bluelab Pulse Meter. It is so easy to use and understand, the app is free and the data is accessible to the grower so that they can draw up quick reports.

Which Bluelab product do you think most growers can’t do without?

EC and pH pens. These are great robust instruments that have a place in every grower’s toolbox. Whether you are a large-scale producer or an at-home grower, if you want to better manage your plant growth, you need these tools.

Has there been a particularly memorable project where you did a Bluelab install? Why does it stand out?

More than one actually – particularly regarding the Bluelab Pro Controller. Since the Pro Controller is so easy to use and set up, we have started installing them at projects that require specific nutrient recipes that are premixed.

Again, it is a huge advantage that the software is free, and the Pro Controller interface is so easy to understand.


Interior of a CEA greenhouse

What’s surprised you the most since working for Cherry Irrigation?

I think it’s just how dynamic the industry is. I think there is this perception that farming still happens in a very traditional way, but the technologies are always advancing, growth and production need to be optimised and growers are trying new solutions.

Since Cherry Irrigation is located in South Africa, what has it been like working with Bluelab remotely? How have you found the customer and technical support?

Honestly, I cannot say enough about Bluelab’s technical support. I often handle queries on behalf of my clients and Bluelab has always been quick to respond.

When I started, we received training in person from a Bluelab representative, and I am just constantly provided with the resources and services I need to keep my clients happy.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing CEA growers based in Southern Africa right now? What are they trying to overcome?

Managing costs is always a challenge – whether it is capital costs on a new project, or operating costs that depend on labour, electricity tariffs or production inputs. As mentioned earlier, there is definitely more interest in remote monitoring solutions and this is not only because of COVID-19 but also because it makes financial sense.

What’s next for Cherry Irrigation?

The biggest challenge today for any irrigation company is to stay relevant in a working environment that can quickly change. Our sector is dependent on may factors, from the environment to the economy as well as consumer preferences for the crops our clients produce. We therefore strive to keep our ears to the ground in order to stay informed and provide our clients with the best solutions.

If you'd like to follow along with updates from Cherry Irrigation, check out their Facebook page.

In addition, if you're a retailer who's interested in Bluelab product training, take a look at our Grower Success Programme for more information. 

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