Confidence in the future of forestry

January 12, 2015

Northern Natal Seedlings is a family-owned business supplying forestry and vegetable seedlings to farmers and market gardeners across the country.

Lothar Meier runs the nursery with his brother Roland and father, Jip.
Eucalyptus seedlings.

Based in Paulpietersburg, with satellite nurseries in Moolman and Piet Retief, the company has a strong presence in the northern KZN and southern Mpumalanga regions, supplying farmers as well as corporate growers like Mondi, Sappi and KLF. Growth of the nursery over the past few years has enabled the team to supply farmers much further afield, including the KZN Midlands, Zululand and up north to Sabie and White River.

The business was started by Jip Meier in 1984, and is now managed by his sons, Lothar and Roland. They are the fourth generation of Meiers involved with farming in this region, so they know the environment and the people extremely well. Jip is still involved in the business, and is busy developing a clonal seedling division that will enable Northern Natal Seedlings to keep pace with the changing needs of timber growers.

The nursery supplies all the major commercial forestry pine, wattle and eucalyptus species, as well as a wide variety of vegetable seedlings. Current production is 18 million forestry seedlings and eight million vegetable seedlings annually, with a workforce of 60 people.

The main nursery is based on a farm just outside Paulpietersburg. It includes a Hamilton seedsower imported from England, state of the art germination room to assist with uniformity in seedling growth and a nursery section which can accommodate 18 million seedlings at any given time.

Improved seed is sourced from the likes of Mondi, Sappi and Merensky to ensure the best results. They work closely with Fabi who test seedlings and the growing medium regularly to ensure they are free of pests and diseases. Water used in the nurseries is also tested regularly at Cedara, an important part of the nursery’s hygiene regime.

Most of the forestry seedlings are supplied in 128 deep trays, but they are supplying more and more 98 deeps which have slightly bigger root plugs and better survival rates.

Lothar says that the region is not really optimal for vegetables, but more and more tree farmers are trying to diversify their operations, and so the vegetable seedling business is growing. Forestry is well established in the region with thriving wattle, pine and eucalyptus plantations.

“It’s getting colder around here, there are more dry periods and more pest and disease problems are affecting commercial forestry, so it is crucial that we supply only the best material,” said Lothar. “Seedlings must be disease-free, uniform and of a consistently high quality so our customers can get off to a good start.

“We are not afraid to spend the money to ensure we get the best possible seedlings out there. We are in this business for the long term and we have a lot of confidence in the future of the industry,” he said.

The seed-sowing team at Northern Natal Seedlings.
A healthy crop of young pine seedlings.
Northern Natal Seedlings main nursery outside Paulpietersburg.

*Published in August 2014

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