JEFFREYS BAY – Agricultural entrepreneur Riaan Strydom’s diversified farming interests and exponential business growth clinched him the regional title of Young Farmer of the Year at the Agri Eastern Cape annual congress on Thursday evening.
Strydom, 37, who operates the Bokmakierie Boerdery Trust with brother Mario, walked away with the coveted provincial title and a place in the finals of the national Toyota SA/Agri SA competition later this year.
After representing the Langkloof Agricultural Association as a finalist in last year’s competition, Strydom beat Stephen Moss of the Queenstown & District Agricultural Association for this year’s award.
Strydom started farming in 2002 and inherited a share in a small family fruit farm, which he leveraged to start a second operation. Since inception, his apple and pear production has grown by 300% on fewer planted hectares, while his chicken business has increased from just 200 birds to 94,000, supplying major food retailers and the wholesale trade in the Eastern and Western Cape.
Over the past five years, Strydom has almost doubled his annual turnover, expanding his interests in fruit as well as chickens and pigs. The secret to his success, he said, was involvement across the value chain.
“We handle the whole chain for meat – we produce, slaughter, process, market and distribute,” he explained, adding that operating his own abattoir, butchery and trucks allowed him to minimise costs and maximise profitability.
With offices in the small town of Krakeel River, near Joubertina, the trust is a major employer in the area, creating 160 permanent jobs and seasonal employment for 40 workers. To prevent layoffs of seasonal workers, Strydom also involves them in clearing alien vegetation such as Black Wattle, which he sells as firewood in the Western Cape.
In addition, his business takes on social responsibility projects in the town, such as maintaining the cemetery, providing cleaning services to the local church, mowing the grass on the roadsides and patrolling the streets at night.
Strydom said young farmers had a very important role to play in the South African economy but that very few young people still wanted to farm.
“As far as I’m concerned, the opportunities in this country are unlimited. I feel that you must be an entrepreneur and expand your farming operation as much as possible. I’ve paid a lot of school fees and encountered many obstacles in my life, but nothing will stop me if I am determined to reach my goal.”
Speaking at the awards, out-going winner Stefan Erasmus said the accolade had been a life-enhancing experience that had built his knowledge and character.
“Every one of us has a duty to make a positive difference in the lives of others every day. If we as farmers do positive things, the country can only view us in a positive light.”