NCT commercial tree farmer of the year

November 1, 2012

Outstanding RF Gevers tree farming operation in Vryheid wins prestigious NCT award.

Hagen gevers

Hagen Gevers receives his award from NCT Chairman Harald Niebuhr.

robert gevers

Gevers Farm sculpture

Old man Robert Gevers, who bought the first farm in 1949, is still active in the business. He has developed a unique no-till planting method which gives excellent survival and rapid early growth. An article on his no-till method was published in the April 2012 issue of SA Forestry magazine.

The Gevers farm has some interesting concrete sculptures ... in the background is a beautiful pine compartment.

The NCT Tree Farmer of the Year for 2012 in the Commercial Farm category is RF Gevers (Pty) Ltd, located near Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

It is a family operation started by Robert Gevers. Robert and three of his four sons, Hogart, Erlo and Jurgen, are directors of the company. Robert's grandson Hagen manages the farm and implements the FSC management system.

Robert bought his first farm in 1949 at the tender age of 21. It was mostly grassland which he ploughed up and planted to black wattle. In those days, the main market was the nearby Hlobane coal mine. The farm's timber products included sleepers, split poles, wedges and chunks.

Today, the business has grown to include 19 farms and a modern sawmill. It includes 2 760 ha of pine, 1 840 ha of black wattle and 100 ha of eucalyptus. The balance of 800 ha is managed for conservation and fire protection.

Exceptional silvicultural practices
A notable feature of the farming operation is the exceptional silvicultural practices implemented by Hagen. Brush is managed by cool burns to reduce fire risk. Land prep involves a shallow ripline on flat sites and pit preparation on steeper sites.

Robert tells a story of a German forester who used to talk to his seedlings. According to Robert, the seedlings responded with these words: "If you take care of me when I am young, then I will take care of you when you are old."

Hagen has adopted this philosophy and takes great care to ensure healthy seedlings and good survival.

Thinning and pruning
Pine compartments are planted at 3 x 2 metre spacings and three thinning operations are done to achieve a final stocking of 300 stems per ha. The first thinning is done at six to seven years with every 13th row removed and selective felling in the remaining rows.

This achieves a good compromise between access and maintaining an even spacing. At 13 years, the trees are reduced to 400 sph with the final reduction at 18 years.

Pruning of branches is done at four, seven and 16 years, with most trees being pruned to 10 metres in the last operation. This regime is designed to maximise the quality of the wood for their sawmill.

Wattle compartments are established using either seedlings or natural regeneration, depending on the frost or browsing risk. In the seedling established compartments, the inter-rows are left weedy for the first year to reduce browsing damage. Wattle is generally grown on sites with poorer soils or strategically to create green fire belts.

Fire protection
Fire protection is another noteworthy feature of the farm. External firebreaks are well prepared and internal breaks ensure fires can be contained to limited areas. Wattle is planted strategically to create a network of green fire protection belts. Open areas are managed to fit into the fire protection plan. Cool burns are used to reduce brush loads, while thinnings and pruning residues are mulched and grassland grazed by the beef herd. In pine compartments, the 13th rows are raked and disced.

They maintain a fleet of bakkie sakkies and fire tenders supported by vehicles that can top up the water supply in emergencies.

Their history of effectively managing fire risk has enabled them to take the decision not to insure their timber against fire.

Hagen's general plantation management is compliant with all aspects of sustainable plantation management, including health and safety, the provision of decent work and living conditions for labour, minimising environmental impacts, and maximising productivity. 

Published in August 2012

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