Appelkloof Farm adjoins the town of Haarlem. The farm is 669ha in size with 90ha of top fruit and orchards. The farm was originally owned by Nelis Johnson and in 2005 the 103 beneficiaries of the Appelkloof Workers’ Trust bought 25% of the farm, utilising LRAD Department of Land Affairs funding. Nelis Johnson retained the other 75% for three years and in 2008 he also sold this to the Appelkloof Workers’ Trust. After becoming the sole owners of Appelkloof Farm an operating entity Mistico Trading was formed which leased the farm from the Appelkloof Workers’ Trust with the support of a strategic partner to assist with the farming operations and leveraging of additional funding.
Large amounts of debt were incurred by Appelkloof Workers’ Trust in financing the transaction to become the sole owners of the business in 2008 from which they never recovered and by 2011 Mistico Trading had run into serious financial problems. They were not able to service their debts against a loan from Absa taken in 2008 and the interest on the debt accrued rapidly over the three year period. In fortunate circumstances the beneficiaries received a grant of R17 million from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
The grant was used to pay off the farm’s debts and to allow them a new start. Of this amount 11.6 million was used to pay off the Absa Bank loan and 6 million was used to pay outstanding debts to the strategic partner and to exit the relationship as per the agreement with the Department of Rural Development and Land Refrom.. This happened in July 2011 and between then and December 2011, when they were able to secure a loan from the Land Bank, Riaan Landman of DC Fruit Packers agreed to assist the Mistico with operational capital and pack their fruit for them. “I was in a position to assist them at a difficult time and I was willing to do so to help the Appelskloof Workers’ Trust to succeed,” explains Riaan Landman. I still pack their fruit for them and assist with the marketing of the fruit and I still occasionally assist them with production queries.”
Patrick Cornelius is the beneficiary on the Appelkloof Workers’ Trust, serves on the trust’s board and is the general manager of Mistico Trading and has been in the position of Manager since 2012. He explained that Mistico Trading was successful in receiving a Land Bank loan and that this administration of this loan was delegated to Humansdorp Co-operative. “Mistico Trading now has access to properly managed production capital from the Land Bank and they provide us with good support,” says Patrick. “We also receive a comprehensive accounting service from Moore and Stephens auditors. One of the conditions attached to the Land Bank loan was that we needed a mentor and for several years now Hannes Stapelberg of Eve Brand has been an excellent mentor to Mistico. Recently he has told us that he is no longer able to assist us and we are in the process of finding a new mentor.”
Initially the Trust had 103 beneficiaries but over time and through the many changes some passed away and many become disillusioned with being beneficiaries. Between 2013 and 2014 the trust negotiated with the beneficiaries who wanted to sell their shares and bought out many of them. Today the trust has only 29 beneficiaries. Mistico Trading has 23 permanent employees and 19 of these are also beneficiaries. The total number of employees including seasonal workers is 65.
The Jobs Fund funding has allowed Mistico Trading to extend their orchards by 6ha of Packham’s Triumph pears in 2017 and during 2018 they expect to receive 14ha of trees; 6ha of Packham’s Triumph pears and 8ha of Sundowner apples. During 2019 Appelkloof expects to receive 1 tractor and 1 chemical spray cart.
Freek Cornelius is on the Appelkloof management team and is a beneficiary of the Appelkloof Workers’ Trust. He grew up in Haarlem and is a community leader and an elder in the Haarlem Lutheran congregation. He worked for Nelis Johnson for many years and has continued to work at Appelkloof since the farm changed hands in 2005.
Photo Caption: Mistico Trading General Manager Patrick Cornelius (left) and Freek Cornelius in the orchards at Appelkloof.