Hennie Crous and his father farm on Highview farm between Misgund and Haarlem in the Langkloof. When the neighbouring Ongelegen Farm came onto the market in 2005, they purchased the farm with the idea of utilising this farm to empower the workers on their farm in a 50% equity scheme. This was unsuccessful due to the government moratorium on equity share schemes that was introduced at that time and in 2008 the government bought Ongelegen. In response Hennie approached this challenge differently and assisted his employees and the farm workers at Ongelegen to form a co-operative to rent Ongelegen from the government. The Hoe-Uitsig Agricultural Primary Co-Op Ltd. was established and the 36 members of the co-operative rent the land and farm with ongoing mentorship from Hennie Crous.
Initially the farming operation had some problems but from 2012/2013 the farm has been developing well. “Over the past few years we have been able to renew quite a number of the old orchards over the years and these new young orchards are assurance for the future,” says Michael May, the General Manager at Ongelegen and the vice-chairman of the co-operative.
“During 2012 and 2013 we received inputs from Hortgro in the form of fertilizer and crop protection chemicals and implements. During 2013 we also received implements and production capital from the government’s Recapitalisation Fund. In 2014 we planted 3.2ha of orchards, built shed and renovated our office. We also bought a tractor, truck and bin wagons and a container shed for agricultural chemicals storage and all of this was funded from our own income.
The team at Ongelegen were in agreement that the Jobs Fund funding arrived at a crucial and very welcome time. In 2015 their orchards had been hit by hail and they did not have the capital to renew orchards. The Jobs Fund assistance made it possible for them to plant 6ha of young trees, which consisted of 2.77ha of Royal Beaut apples, 1.35ha of Forelle pears and 1.08ha of Packham’s Triumph pears in 2016. Then this was followed by severe drought from 2016 and in 2017 they were only able to harvest less than half of their normal crop. After the recent rains in November 2017 and January 2018 they are excited as they expect of harvest around 80% of a normal yield for this year.
Remarkably, the trees planted during 2016 have not been affected by the drought and are thriving. They plan to plant a further 10ha this year (2018). This was initially scheduled for last year but was delayed due to the drought.
“We have now secured a 30-year lease with government which gives us more security for the future than we had before,” says Michael. “We are building on an asset and hope to have the opportunity to buy the farm in the future. Currently our rental is calculated at 5% of the nett income according to a business plan that has been prepared for our business. While our income is still low, this is a reasonable arrangement but as we become more productive, this could become problematic and we will need to deal with this then.”
Michael May is also assisted in the day-to-day running of the farm by Eldrich Moos is the Assistant Manager and the Treasurer of the Co-operative. They both agreed that the mentorship that the cooperative receives form Hennie Crous is invaluable to their success. “It is often difficult to communicate how the farm’s finances work to the co-operative members. Despite this, we have been able to pay our Co-operative members a dividend every year from when we started in 2013 with the exception of 2017 as a result of the drought,” explained Eldrich. “Our dream is to build a dam to provide water security for the future and this will also allow us to expand our productions. We truly need a bigger dam. We have been through drought and seen the effects. When it does rain it seems such a waste to see how much water is lost in the runoff process. If we could keep this water it would considerably improve our water security.”
Hennie Crous and his father are still closely involved with the co-operative. “The co-operative members are farm workers from our farm Highview and also from Ongelegen farm and so we are committed to each other. When times are tough, they are tough on both sides of the fence. While I still visit regularly, as the farming operation becomes more independent, my level of involvement is gradually decreasing. I am in daily contact with them and visit the farm weekly.”
The recent good rains and the new orchards at Ongelen will certainly contribute to the co-operatives future successes.