One of South Africa’s best-known fruit growers, Pieter Graaff, who owns Witzenberg Properties in the Ceres region of the Western Cape, has been named as South Africa’s farmer of the year by the country’s Agricultural Writers’ Association.
The Association also named Leonard Mavhugu, a farmer from the former Ciskei region of the Eastern Cape, as New Entrant of the Year into Commercial Agriculture and Wandile Sihlobo, an agricultural economist from Gauteng, as Agriculturist of the Year.
In announcing the awards, Magda du Toit, chairperson of the Agricultural Writers SA, said the organisation annually acknowledges outstanding achievements of commercial farmers, new entrants into commercial agriculture, and agriculturists.
“Every day we are met with the challenge of feeding a growing world population," said du Toit. "With these awards, Agricultural Writers SA acknowledges the role that farmers and agriculturists play in the agricultural sector and in addressing food security.
"The ultimate measure of a person is not what they do in moments of comfort and convenience, but rather what they do during times of challenge and crisis," du Toit outlined. "That shows resilience and that is the match that ignites hope, excellence, innovation and forward thinking. And that is what all our regional winners managed to do.”
Graaff took over the farming business, Witzenberg Properties, just outside Ceres from his father Dr Jan Graaff in 1984. The Association said that under his leadership, five farming units were added to the original farm, resulting in better productivity and an increase in the total turnover and profit.
Graaff also expanded his farming business vertically into the complete value chain. The six farming units are all situated in four unique climate zones within the Ceres region, spreading the climate risk of the farming business. Each of the six units are operated independently with their own infrastructure. The combined production of the separate farming units has enabled him to become the single largest individual apple producer in South Africa.
Other farming activities include the cultivation of pears, nectarines, peaches, cherries, wine grapes, vegetables, grain, forestry with a sawmill, cattle, sheep and a thoroughbred stud.
Graaff said that since early on in his career he made the conscious decision to rather be ‘a small fish in a big ocean’, rather then being ‘a big fish in a small pond.’
Witzenberg Properties chose to develop by forming partnerships rather than going it alone. With this philosophy a business was built with far greater influence across the whole value chain.
According the Agricultural Writers, Witzenberg Properties has a proud tradition of taking care of its people. It is an employer of choice within the greater Ceres area and renowned as a company where people work for the company until retirement.
“It provides employee benefits beyond the minimum requirements, to provide every employee of Witzenberg Properties the opportunity to live a life of dignity," the group noted.
Aside from serving the South African industry in many ways, Graaff is now also chairperson of one of the leading exporters, Tru-Cape.
Managing director, Roelf Pienaar said the company needed innovative growers like Graaff and others to maintain its competitive edge. “His forward-thinking and business-like approach to growing the best South African fruit is a large part of our success," Pienaar added.