The land of milk and opportunity

Farming for the future: Nyeleti Jeanet Rikhotso, the managing director of Middledrift Dairy, is determined to see her farm succeed. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Farming for the future: Nyeleti Jeanet Rikhotso, the managing director of Middledrift Dairy, is determined to see her farm succeed. Picture: Leon Sadiki

Johannesburg - Nyeleti Jeanet Rikhotso, the managing director of Middledrift Dairy, sees great potential in the future of the business.

Despite the challenges of limited space and severe drought that threaten the sustainable growth of the farm, 30-year-old Rikhotso does not intend giving up on her dream of seeing it succeed.

“I am looking forward to us being named one of the top 10 farmers in South Africa within the next two years,” says Rikhotso.

“Our biggest challenge lies in growing pastures for cow feed, given that the land has been dry for the past 18 months,” she said.

The Eastern Cape, like all the other regions of South Africa, has been experiencing severe drought for the past two years.

Farmers have been badly affected, with some of their farms having been declared disaster areas.

Rikhotso says even though the land has been dry in Middledrift, she remains hopeful for the future.

“We have to make do with what is available to us and see how we can survive until we have turned the corner,” she says.

Because of the space challenges, Rikhotso says it also becomes difficult to grow the number of cows they have on the farm.

The communal farm relies on land allocation to grow its herds.

“We continuously negotiate with the owners of the available spaces to provide us with their land so we can grow our herds, but they are very reluctant to give in,” says Rikhotso.

However, she adds, they will not give up negotiating because their farm can only accommodate 650 cows and their 300 calves.

“With more land, by the time the calves are old enough, the business can grow further in terms of production and profits,” she says.

Many farmers, whose farms have greener pastures, also become targets of neighbouring farmers, who force their own herds to feed illegally.

Rikhotso says they have also become targets of neighbouring farmers.

“When their own pastures have grown dry, even though we have fencing around our farm, they cut the fence and force their herds into our feeding space.

“This is another challenge because we put so much effort into ensuring the quality of our feed for the benefit of our cows, not for the benefit of others.

“There are a host of different challenges in running this business, but we will not be deterred,” she says.

Out of her team of 17 workers, there are three women working at Middledrift Dairy.

Rikhotso says there used to be more women working on the farm, but since City Press last visited the area in 2015, they have left.

“Somehow, it seems they lose interest in this kind of work. Maybe they do not see it working for them. But work continues and we look forward to having more women playing a role in the dairy because there are few women in farming in South Africa.”

Jeffrey Every, the chief executive officer at Amadlelo Agri, a cooperative of black dairy farmers, shares Rikhotso’s views, saying the biggest challenges they have had are the shortage of rain and having to opt for buying feed instead of growing it themselves.

“But despite the drought, we are pushing through the barriers. We buy cow feed from suppliers and we get by with what we have at our disposal,” he says.

Every adds that acquiring feed from outside sources means they spend more on the feed than they would if they grew their own, like they normally do.

“As soon as we can go back to growing our own preferred quality of feed, we will make huge savings on our expenditure – because growing our own cuts on costs.”

Every reiterates that, despite the challenges, they are growing from strength to strength.

“We now have seven farms – six in the Eastern Cape and one in KwaZulu-Natal.

“We also pride ourselves on the benefits realised by the local communities and for black empowerment. Amadlelo has 350 employees. We have 25 black junior and senior managers,” says Every.

“Every year, we take a minimum of 20 students for training and grooming into professional farmers.

“This is a guarantee that there is a bright future in our business and the farming business in general.”

He says business is still good for Amadlelo as supplies are swelling and have grown to the point where local businesses are buying their milk directly from the Amadlelo dairy collective and selling it at a profit.

“Our quality is still the best and our clients are happy. The challenges have not dented our quality assurance.”

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