Farmers must diversify to spur growth, says expert

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Stop whining if weaners are not earning – Serfontein

A NEED TO CHANGE: Nick Serfontein from Sernick explains to farmers at the Frontier Farmers’ Day event, at Hunters Lodge last Friday, that there are many ways to  encourage growth. Picture: ROB KNOWLES
A NEED TO CHANGE: Nick Serfontein from Sernick explains to farmers at the Frontier Farmers’ Day event, at Hunters Lodge last Friday, that there are many ways to encourage growth. Picture: ROB KNOWLES

NICK Serfontein of the Sernick Group was the keynote speaker at this year’s Frontier Farmers’ Day event, and said that diversification was the only road to follow if South African farmers want to grow their businesses.

As usual, it was a packed house at the Frontier Farmers’ Day at the Hunters Lodge last Friday, as farmers gathered to network – and discuss the latest farming trends.

After an introduction by event organiser Justin Stirk, Serfontein gave a talk on the benefits of adding value to animals purchased to slaughter. “The Eastern Cape has very little in terms of feed lots, yet it has the most cattle in the country,” Serfontein said. “South Africa has around 500 abattoirs and deals with around three million head slaughtered per year. In the region of 60% of these abattoirs are highly rated, but close to 1.2 million head are slaughtered in unregulated abattoirs.”

Serfontein was born in the Free State and, together with his brother, was asked by their father what they wanted to be when they left school. “I didn’t want anything to do with commercial farming, as I could see no future in it,” he said.

Serfontein went on to study engineering at the University of Pretoria but, despite his previous reluctance, purchased 250ha of land and 25 cows with his first pay cheque after graduation. Today his company is one of the most successful of its type in the country. “I had established that there was money in farming, but only if you looked at the entire lifecycle of the animals and correctly identified a value chain,” he explained. “In these days, when meat imports are increasing, we will be a nett meat importer for the foreseeable future.”

Serfontein therefore said that the only way to sustainable business was to add value to the product and to diversify. In his own company, which he began when he retired from the industrial sector in 2002, his objective was to diversify and, to date, Sernick has developed his own feeding lot as well as wholesale and retail outlets to distribute its meat products. “Different breed [of cattle] have different feeding requirements, and the cattle reach the ideal slaughter weight at different times,” he said.

He continued that those who could not earn enough from their weaners should stop whining and sell their animals, or they should feed and fatten their cattle on the farm and send them to market in May, June and July when they would get the best prices.

But Serfontein suggested that custom-feeding was another option available, where the cattle are fed for the optimum period and kept at a feedlot for the duration until they were ready to be slaughtered.

Serfontein is an advocate for Bonsmara cattle, and said that genetics was an important factor when selecting animals. He also spoke of ADG (average daily gain) achieved by animals, which should be 1.5kg of feed for 1kg of growth. He also mentioned the feed conversion rate (FCR), which are other important factors in the raising of cattle.

Following Serfontein, Patrick Sekwatlakwatla, South Africa’s first black cattle judge, also from Sernick, spoke of the company’s corporate and social investment (CSI) programme, under his leadership.

He said that the programme aimed to uplift emerging farmers through ongoing training, assistance in procuring financial resources, and the supplemented feeding of emerging farmers’ animals.

Finally, economist Gavin Came gave a detailed explanation of the financial situation in the country, the economy and the politics of doing business in South Africa.

Came explained that education, social grants, economic policy along with politicians saying stupid things (and emphasising that this was not solely a South African phenomenon), were extremely important to the country and needed to be addressed.

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