The rising cost of living may have South Africans tightening their belts but there is something we can do about it, argues hydroponics expert John Sandison – learn to grow our own fresh produce and cut out the middle man!
The soaring price of food in South Africa
Everybody in South Africa is acutely aware of the rising cost of living as it becomes more and more difficult with every passing month to keep expenses within one’s budget. Petrol, electricity and food seem to be the main culprits behind this difficult situation.
Although the price of oil has dropped to its lowest level in many years, increasing fuel levies and the worsening exchange rate mean that the price of petrol in this country is nearly at its highest level ever. Then there’s Eskom requesting increases of 25% per annum from the National Energy Regulator (NERSA). The third baddie in this triumvirate is food. Along with the cost of fuel, successive minimum labour increases has rocketed food prices to inflationary levels – and none of this has been helped by the current persistent severe drought.
What’s the average South African to do? The only way to save energy is to get off the grid, which can be a costly exercise in itself, while the price of fuel is largely beyond our control. The good news is we can do something to save money on food.
Cut out the middleman
If you currently buy your fresh produce from a supermarket or grocery store, you’re enriching the middleman who contributes precious little in the way of active production. Consider the following: Retailers generally mark-up produce by around 60%. So if, for example, lettuces are selling at R18.00 each, then the farmer gets R11.25 for each lettuce and the retailer gets R6.75. The farmer must deduct labour, diesel, electricity, fertiliser and overhead costs from his R11.25, which account for about 60% of his turnover, leaving him with the same net profit as the retailer, and this is the farmer’s best case scenario. You can remove yourself from this vicious circle by growing your own produce – either for your own consumption (saving money), or to sell (to make money).
Make Money from Growing Vegetables
Did you know that if you grow hydroponically your costs will be lower than that of a farmer growing in soil? But in order to make your produce more economically attractive to buyers than that of retailers, you would have to offer your produce at a discounted price – say 15% lower than theirs. Let’s do the sums:
- At the outset, a 15m² greenhouse will cost you R18 000 complete with weldmesh monkey excluder, a fibreglass roof, 60% shade cloth and white plastic floor sheeting
- This 15m² greenhouse equipped with a Verti-Gro vertical growing system houses 838 plants
- Lettuces grown hydroponically take an average of five weeks to mature, which means being able to produce ten crops a year from your greenhouse
- This amounts 8380 plants
- Subtract 380 plants to account for plants which don’t germinate and those that are lost to accidents and pests, etc.
- This leaves you with 8000 plant sales at an average annual price of say R8.00 = R64 000.00
- Subtract your initial costs (R18 000.00) from your sales (R64 000.00) = which amounts to a gross profit of R48 000.00
- Now, subtract your operating costs (electricity, water, fertiliser, etc.) – let’s say R500.00 per month – which leaves you with a nett profit of R40 000.00 for the year
- Of course, you would also have to factor in marketing costs, but once you’ve set up distribution channels, it becomes a lot easier.
Save Money from Growing Vegetables
You will need to grow a spread of vegetables, planting a greater variety at lower quantities. The number of Verti-Gro columns will have to be reduced to a single row, and in their place you can put two rows of bags from which you can grow peppers and egg plants. Cucumbers and tomatoes can be grown from the second pot in the vertical column leaving the top pot for your lettuces (all seven lower pots are removed for this purpose and replaced with a white drainage pipe and a funnel. The tomato and cucumber plants grow outwards and downwards). Although tomatoes, cucumbers. peppers and eggplants take up more space than the lettuces so you fit fewer in the green house, what they lack in quantity they make up for in value!
Growing bell peppers
Take a look at this saving:
- Peppers sell for R40.00/kg in the shops.
- They produce at about one pepper per plant per month,
- So with 16 plants in a row of bags they would contribute 4 kg a month over 9 months = 36kg
- 36kg x R40 = R1440 saved per year.
Tomatoes can be grown year round in a subtropical climate:
- You can expect to produce 6 kg each a year from two crops x 64 plants
- 6 kg x 64 plants = 384 kg
- 384 kg x the retail price of R15/kg =R5 760 saved per year.
You’ll save loads by growing your own cucumbers:
- Cucumbers produce 10 kg fruit over a three-month crops season
- Expect two crops per year = 20 kg per plant per annum
- Thus a crop of 32 will produce = 640kg
- 640kg = 20kg per plant per annum at the retail price of R20/kg = R12 800 saved.
Yet another appealing saving:
- Eggplants produce two crops per year @ 1kg per plant
- This amounts to 2 kg per year x 32 plants = 64 kg x 4 fruits per kg = 256 fruits @ R8.00 each = R2 048 saved.
- 320 lettuces p.a. @ average annual price R12/lettuce = R3840 saved.