NTE wattle extract is derived from the bark of the Black Wattle tree, a species of Acacia native to Australia. The species was introduced to SA in 1871, initially used as shelter-belts for stock & the wood for fuel & fencing. Later, it was discovered that the bark contained high levels of tannin which could be used for treating hides for leather production. Black Wattle grows best in the cool, mist-belt region of SA along the eastern escarpment where the annual rainfall is in excess of 800 mm per annum. There are about 110 000 hectares of commercial Black Wattle grown by some 2500 farmers, the majority of whom are black smallholders. The trees are grown on a 8 to10-year cycle and managed in such a manner as to ensure that growers receive a regular income from their trees and that a regular supply of good quality wattle bark is available for processing at the extract factories.
Not only the bark but also the timber of the Black Wattle tree is much sought after. For every ton of bark harvested, wattle also produces about five tons of utilised timber. The trees are normally felled when they are ten years old. The bark is removed as soon as the tree is felled and is bundled and despatched to the extract factory. Minimising the delay from harvesting to the processing of wattle bark at the factory ensures that tanning extract of the highest quality is produced. Once the bark and timber have been removed from the site the next crop is planted. This new crop is fertilised and weeded to ensure that growth is maximised.
Extensive research has shown that Black Wattle can be grown repeatedly on the same site without experiencing a decline in yield. Being a legume, the tree fixes nitrogen in the soil which can be used to a farmeru2019s advantage should he decide to grow a cash crop such as maize before replanting his trees. Natural resources are normally well protected on wattle estates. Contour planting, the stacking of branches between the old tree rows, and grassed waterways to carry excess water after heavy storms are some of the methods used to manage run-off and protect the soil from erosion. When planting, care is taken to ensure that the trees do not encroach on the water courses or wetlands. This is done to ensure that stream flow is not adversely affected and that other water users down stream also receive their share of our precious water resource. Where wattle and other alien plants do encroach on this riparian zone efforts are made to remove them.
The South African wattle industry is well organised and successful. It is exceptional in having had its own research institute for the last fifty years. Wattle growers have benefited enormously from this research through access to improved silvicultural techniques for growing the crop and genetically improved planting material. Timber and bark yields as well as resistance to disease have all improved steadily as a result of this effort which has enhanced the competitiveness of the wattle industry as a whole. The popularity of wattle as a crop is well illustrated by the many smallholders who grow this tree. About 75% of all registered wattle growers fall into this category. The expansion of wattle growing amongst this group provides budding entrepreneurs with a variety of business opportunities.
Participation in international leather fairs South African wattle extract producers have been producing quality products for over 80 years. The NTE products manufactured by NTE Company Ltd are sold through NTE Wattle Extract Company (Pty) Ltd to over 50 countries world-wide.