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Farmer transformation; from the ground up

A Richmond farmer has embarked on a transformation initiative amongst his long-standing employees by starting a livestock business with them as his way of giving back to his loyal staff.

“I wanted to give something back, and reward my long-serving employees. My decision was to start a livestock, specifically goats and cattle, project,” says Justin Sykes simply about his initiative.

Sykes, a 41-year old sugarcane and beef farmer, from Ridgeway Farm bordering the Mgwempisi Valley in Richmond is a fifth-generation farmer, who has farming – and the love for what he does, the land and the people he works with, in his blood.

“All my wife Candice and I knew was that we wanted to do something to bring about change for our hard-working and loyal employees, but we didn’t know how to go about it. There is no manual out there for this sort of thing you know!” says Sykes.

Last October, with the help and advice of his accountant, Sykes formed the Ridgeway Farm Employees Trust, which in order to qualify as a beneficiary, 10 years of unbroken service, is required; of his employees 21 are currently qualified as beneficiaries. He then formed an operating company, Mgwempisi Valley Farming, in which he has a 49% share, with the remaining 51% being owned by the Ridgeway Farm Employees Trust. Regular meetings with directors are held where input and plans for the company are jointly made.

“There are four directors, myself and three beneficiaries; we are all also Trustees on the Trust,” explains Sykes.

To date Ridgeway Farm has funded 100% of the capital required to get the company off the ground. This includes the initial purchase of 70 Nguni/ Mbuzi goats, a full-time goat minder, the over-night facilities, the supplementary food required, the vet bills and the leasing of the land for grazing which Ridgeway Farm leases for a nominal annual fee of R1.

“Our long-term plan is to purchase land in the company’s name with my employees, now that we have put the hard work in and put all the necessary structures in place, this should make things simpler should we find a suitable farm for sale,” he says.

CEO of Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque, has applauded Sykes on his initiative.

“It is inspiring to see farmers giving back and making a real difference to the future of farming in KZN. I would like to encourage all farmers to use this as an example of how to effect positive change and to make a difference to both your lives and to the lives of your employees,” said La Marque.