World's Biggest Citrus Estate

Nearly 400 million oranges are harvested each year from the groves of Zebediela - the worlds biggest citrus estate. The output is sufficient to provide one orange for every eight people on earth.

At the height of the season about 15 000 cases of oranges leave Zebediela every day. The fruit comes from more than 600 000 trees irrigated by enough water to supply a city. The main harvesting periods are from April to June, when the navel oranges are ripe and August to October, when the Valencias are ready.

The whole estate is highly mechanised and many of the most advanced handling techniques in world citrus production have originated from Zebediela.

History

The extraordinary irrigation possibilities of the region were first realized in the 1890s by W.H Gilfillan, surveyor-general of the thenTransvaal goverment. The Anglo-Boer War postponed his plans for the development of the area but when peace came Gilfillan returned and bought two farms, Uitkyk and Schaapplaats.

There were more troubles ahead for Gilfillan.  He tried to farm ostriches but the ostrich-feather boom collapsed.

Then came the First World War which created an escalation in the demand for fresh fruit.  Gilfillan convinced Isidore Schlesinger, the financier, that the area had great potential for producing fruit.

Schlesinger bought Gilfillan's farms and divided them into 1 200 plots each of 2 ha.

A handsome brochure was produced offering the plots at 67 pounds each, to be farmed as a profit-sharing co-operative.

The scheme proved particularly attractive to retired army officers and by 1921 most had been sold.  Houses sprung up in the new Zebediela township, the great citrus groves were planted and the first fruit was picked in 1926.  Two years later the branch railway to Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) was opened to carry the ever-growing harvest on the first stage of its journey to all parts of the world.

In 1974 the goverment bought the Zebediela estate and was then run by the Bantu Investment Corporation. The estate is named after a Ndebele chief of the area, nicknamed Sibitiela.

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